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Things I Cannot Control and Do Not Admire

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Leonard Snart stood just inside the entrance to the cavernous warehouse, a quiet alertness thrumming through his veins. The cold gun was in his hand, his finger on the trigger. The hum of its machinery sounded loud in his ears in comparison to the stillness of the warehouse. The only other noise was the quiet shuffle of Mick in his heavy boots and the clack of Lisa’s heels as they busied themselves behind him, moving heavy gold bars from the industrial safe into duffle bags as he stood guard. His eyes flicked from the doors down to his watch.

One hundred and twenty-seven seconds.

“Lenny, we’re almost ready to move these out. Get over here and help!”

No sign of him. No trail of lightning moving through the city and over the airfields in their direction.  Len’s eyes darted to his sister before returning to the watch. “Not yet.”

“Snart.” This time it was Mick’s gruff voice insisting.

“I said, not yet.”

“I know what you’re waiting for, Lenny, but he’s obviously not coming.” Lisa zipped up the last duffel bag and began walking towards him. “We have to get going before the cops figure out anything’s up.”

“He’ll be here, sis.” He turned to his partners in crime with a smirk. “Have a little faith.”

Lisa and Mick, obviously not impressed but also used to Len’s peculiarities, just looked back at him with resigned annoyance in their eyes.

Only a week ago Len had caught wind of rumours about a shipment of gold bullion being discretely housed overnight in Central City’s airport district on its way elsewhere. The short time frame meant he couldn’t plan the heist as meticulously as he would have liked but bribes had given him the exact location of the warehouse - one of many that flanked Central City’s airport - and the Rogues’ specialised guns had quickly overpowered the guards assigned to the bullion’s protection.

Said guards were now tied up in a small office in the warehouse, barely any worse for wear despite their run in with the Rogues. That was due in part to Captain Cold’s deal with the Flash. A year ago the trio may have tried to avoid unnecessary heat, but they wouldn’t have hesitated to kill whoever got in the way of them getting what they wanted. The Flash’s arrival in Central City had been a revelation. Now there were rules that Len had to work around to get what he wanted. He found the new arrangement to be a stimulating change of pace.

“Why do you even want to be here when he shows up?” Lisa asked him. “Forget the score, half the time you’re lucky to not end up in gaol when the Flash gets involved. Can you imagine how good we’d have it if he wasn’t around?”

“But where’s the fun in making easy money from easy jobs?” Len questioned in turn. “I’ve been doing this a long time, longer than you little sister, and I am very good at it. I have money. What I want is a challenge. The thrill of the game. Since he appeared, we’ve had to plan better. We’ve had to be better. He makes the whole thing more enjoyable. You can’t deny it’s more fun when the Flash, and his colleagues” – here he aimed a pointed glance at Lisa – “are involved.”

“You might have a point there,” she said with a secretive smirk, ducking her head slightly. A coy habit she’d only picked up later in life, after their father had finally been exposed and imprisoned. The expression didn’t last long though, and soon she was frowning at him again. “But Lenny, it’s been like five minutes. Face it, he’s not coming.”

“It’s been two hundred and eighty four seconds, and he is,” Len insisted.

“Your sister’s right, Snart. It’s time for us to go,” Mick backed her up with a distracted glance in their direction.

“He’s coming.”

“And besides, how would he even know we were here?” Lisa continued. “Your plan went off without a hitch, like they always do.” He mock bowed and Lisa just rolled her eyes at his theatrics. “The guards didn’t have time to-” She paused in thought for a second and then she exploded. “You let them get a signal out! You sabotaged us! That’s why you’re so sure he’s coming!”

Mick’s attention had been wandering around the warehouse as Len and Lisa bickered but he rounded on his partner in crime then, fuming. “You what!?” When Len made no immediate attempt to deny Lisa’s accusation, one of his meaty fists grabbed hold of Len’s parka and the other drew back, ready to send a punch straight at his face.

Fear settled like extra gravity in Len’s gut as he braced himself for the impact. Admittedly this wasn’t the first time the two had come to physical blows. Mick was single-minded when he became enraged and Len was just grateful that most of the time he managed to avoid being on the receiving end of that fury. He could count the times he hadn’t been that lucky on his fingers, and was man enough to admit that he deserved about half of them. This was probably one of those times.

But before Mick’s fist could start its forward momentum, Lisa’s hand shot out and grabbed his elbow.

“Mick! Calm down! This isn’t the time or place. If the Flash knows we’re here then we really do have to make a quick getaway.” She stroked his arm comfortingly as he slowly lowered it to his side, the scowl never leaving his face, and her voice took on the even, calming tones people tended to use with cornered animals. “This is our first heist since Ferris Air.” She glanced pointedly in Len’s direction. “You might think that means he still owes you for saving him, Lenny, but I can guarantee you if he catches all three of us, he’s going to whisk us straight to prison. And then there’s no guarantee one of the metas we freed will come and repay their debt. We can’t risk all of us being caught at once just yet.”

Mick released Len from his hold, pushing him away as he did and throwing his own arms up in the air in a show of frustration. Len did his best to hide his sigh of relief, adrenaline still coursing through his system despite being free from the immediate threat of violence. His heartbeat pounded in his ears. Mick took a few measured steps away before turning back to glare at him, only slightly calmer. “When we started this, the plan was to put the Flash down. Something’s gone wrong with you, Snart. You accused me of being obsessed! Ha! This isn’t what I signed on for.” A thick finger stabbed in his direction. “The score comes first, always. Pull yourself together or I’m out. For good.”

“We can talk about that when we’re far away from here.” Lisa reasoned, putting herself physically between the two of them. In the midst of all the other emotions surging though him right in that moment, Len felt a surge of pride for his brave sister. Their father had tried to break her but no “lesson” he could dish out would temper her spirit, make her cowardly.

 Mick stood staring him down for several more tense moments before eventually turning away with a noise of disgust. With the situation defused, Lisa turned her full attention back to reasoning with Len. “Lenny. We have to get this gold into the van. Now.”

Len looked dejectedly at the door. If the Flash was in town - and Len knew he was, he kept tabs on the boy - then he should have been here by now. All the pleasure he usually got from a job done well immediately dissipated. They may have been on the verge of getting what they came for but in Len’s estimation, this had been a complete failure. A decision was easy to come to. “Leave it.”

“What? Lenny?” Lisa looked from Len to the duffel bags full of bullion on the floor and back again. “There’s millions just sitting there, ready for us to take!”

“I’m not in the mood anymore,” he said as he walked away.

 

***

 

Later that night Len sat at the bar at Saints and Sinners, nursing a beer. Mick had come through on his earlier threat once they’d reunited at their shared safe house, and an ugly purple bruise was blooming high on his cheek. He’d escaped to the bar to get away from the anger bubbling off both Lisa and Mick. The gold could have lasted them a while, kept them entertained for longer than their regular scores, but without Len’s help and the impending threat of police and Flash interference Lisa and Mick had made the safer decision of clearing out of the warehouse in a hurry with only a few bars stuffed into their jacket pockets.

While Lisa usually dealt well with Len’s idiosyncrasies, the selfishness of this particular act - its blatant disregard for both his sister and the closest thing he had to a best friend - had obviously hit a little too close to home, and brought up memories of their younger years. It wasn’t the first time he’d walked out on her and if Len was being completely honest with himself, it probably wouldn’t be the last. He had a history of making the worst possible choices for the best reasons when it came to his sister. His obsessive and meticulous nature, which had been such a boon to the profession he’d landed in, often backfired on him, making him lose sight of what his first priority should be until it was too late.

Mick and Lisa would calm down eventually, and they’d do it quicker without him around. He had other places he could stay in the meantime. If not at one of their many other safe houses, then at the apartment he kept for himself when he wanted to be alone. His sister would smooth things over with Mick once she’d vented her own frustration; she had a special way with him when he got in a mood and would be able to talk him around. The three of them may have fought and argued terribly over the years, but they always gravitated back to one another sooner or later.

Len took another pull of his beer and turned around, taking in the occupants of the bar. Except for the bartender who’d come to take his order, they all kept their distance. He was well known here; he wasn’t even the only person in the room who the police would love to have behind bars. Saints and Sinners was a crime bar. It had a reputation as a no go zone as far as cops were concerned, and so all types gathered here.

His cheek stung. His pride as well, to a lesser extent, though there was a fair amount of guilt roiling around in his stomach that he was having trouble quelling. He took a generous pull of his beer to try to drown the feeling and considered upgrading to something a little stronger when it seemed to make no difference.

As he was internally debating the merits of vodka versus gin, the door opened behind him, and a hush fell over the room. Someone new then. He heard tentative footsteps approach the bar – not hard to make out in the silence that still lingered following the stranger’s entrance - stopping after only a few paces as though the new patron had immediately regretted his decision to enter this particular bar once he saw inside it.

But the steps eventually continued so the man must have plucked up his courage. He came right up to the bar and sat on the stool beside Len and motioned to the bartender for a drink. Len caught the gesture in his periphery vision.

When he glanced fully to the side he wasn’t entirely surprised to see the Flash next to him, dressed casually in skinny jeans and a sweater over a button down shirt. The kid stood out like a sore thumb.

Without taking his eyes away from the bottles of liquor lined up at the back of the bar, Barry started talking. “You know, the strangest thing happened tonight. This warehouse out at the airport got broken into, guards tied up. Should have been a cakewalk for the thieves, but for some reason the gold – and there was a lot of it, all bagged up – was left there. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

There was a playfulness to his tone that Len wasn’t in the mood to indulge.

“What do you want, Barry?” There was no trace of his Captain Cold persona in the words.

Barry looked at him, obviously surprised he wasn’t playing along. “Well... I just thought it was strange. I mean, the guards said it was you, but you didn’t really take anything, so…” He let the sentence hang in the air.

Len rounded on him. “Where were you?”

“Whoa!” Barry held up his hands in a faux sign of defence. “Why are you angry? I thought you’d be happy to have me off your back for once.”

Len turned back to his beer, his knuckles paling around the glass.

“We had a deal, Barry. You keep the game interesting and I don’t kill anyone. If you’re not going to play by the rules, then why should I?” Len let that sink in for a second. “Whatever’s going on with you, snap out of it before I have to hurt someone,” he finished with a snarl.

For several minutes both men remained sitting, no word passing between them. The bartender came to give Barry his beer but didn’t stick around, quickly putting distance between Len and Barry and himself. Len would raise his glass to drink at regular intervals while Barry stared down at his own hands cradling his bottle. He started to pick at the label.

“I thought the deal was you wouldn’t kill anyone if I left you alone completely?”

Len ignored the question but when he spoke next there was no fight left in his voice. “What are you even doing here, Barry?”

A crack appeared in the small, friendly smile that had been on Barry’s face since the beginning of the conversation. “I was just feeling a bit lonely and thought maybe you’d like to chat.” His tone was all practised jest but there was something of the truth in his words.

That piqued Len’s interest. He turned around fully to look Barry in the eyes. “What about all your little friends at STAR Labs?”

A cavalcade of emotions flashed across Barry’s face before his expression hardened. “That’s none of your business.”

“It is if it affects our… professional dealings.”

Barry slumped back as much as he could on the bar stool, rubbing the balls of his palms into his eyes with a sigh. It was like his façade shattered all at once and Len watched as he fumbled to pick the pieces up and put them back together again. Real feeling still seeped through the cracks as Barry finally began to speak. “I must be crazy to even be considering this… but I haven’t had an actual conversation in months.” He turned to look at Len sideways, his hands going back to worrying at the beer label. “Were you in Central when the black hole opened up?”

“I was. Gave me quite the shock. I hear the mayor wants to give you a shiny key for closing it. I wonder how much you could get for that at the local pawn shop. Probably not even enough to cover that beer. I don’t imagine super heroics pay terribly well. I’d ask for something a bit more financially rewarding if I was you.” A hint of his usual smirk graced Len’s face, and Barry huffed out a laugh.

“Well if I was you, I’d buy me some buffalo wings.”

“Don’t push your luck, kid. So, back to this black hole…”

“Oh yeah. You probably saw stuff about it on the news, but they don’t know anything. They keep saying I’m a hero and that I saved the city, but I didn’t. It’s my fault that it happened in the first place. I was so stupid… If I’d just gone through with it, maybe things would’ve been better. At the very least, no one would remember what I’d done.” Barry seemed to fold in on himself again, hands over his face. “But now… They all blame me. I just know it. And they have every right to. I blame me too. It’s all my fault.”

“Kid, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Back up a bit.”

“Okay, okay. Um, so…” And then Barry began to talk. A torrent of words, beginning with his mother’s murder and ending with the singularity over Central City, and his hands in motion the entire time, nervously reaching for and toying with something that wasn’t there and then retreating back to his chest. Len listened intently, storing all the information away; he was sure some of it would come in useful in the future. It was a fantastical story, hard to believe, but Len had seen a man race lightning, seen another grow a storm in his palm and a woman who could instantly transport herself to anywhere within her sight. The world had gotten a lot stranger in the span of a year, and he was nothing if not adaptable.

“Caitlin just left without a word and went off to Mercury Labs, Cisco’s at the CCPD but I don’t really see him. By which I mean I make sure I don’t see him. I basically live out of STAR labs because, well, it’s mine now apparently.

“And Iris is my best friend in the world but I can’t bear to face her. It’s my fault Eddie’s dead, and there’s this horrible little part of me that’s pleased – ugh, that’s such a horrible way to say it – about it. Because now Gideon’s newspaper will be true. And I think, maybe I could go back somehow and change it, bring him back, bring Ronnie back too, but then wouldn’t that change the future? And Dr W-“ He took a shuddering breath. “Reverse Flash said changing the past only makes ever worse things happen? And the last time I tried, it kind of did.

“And I know it’s so selfish of me. That’s not how I’m supposed to think. I’m supposed to be the hero. I should try to do it. Ollie would. Ronnie and Eddie did. But I can’t. And I hate myself for it.” He lapsed into silence for a moment, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. Finally he heaved a weary sigh and finished, “So I’ve just stayed away from them all. But it’s pretty lonely.”

Len still felt as though he was missing a lot of the pieces that completed this puzzle (Gideon’s newspaper? Make things worse?) but he understood enough. The guilt Barry felt was more than obvious. And that guilt had led him to cut ties with his friends and family completely.

He remembered back to when he’d first learnt the Flash’s identity. After their brief discussion in the woods, he’d spent weeks covertly tailing the boy, finding out all he could about him. Know your enemy, and all that. Barry was barely ever alone. At the CCPD he always seemed to have a friend or family member stopping by to see him. Len was surprised he got any work done at all. At STAR Labs he was surrounded by Cisco, the Snow woman and a man in a wheelchair, and when he went home it was to his adoptive father’s house. Len thought of his own life. In the weeks he’d been watching Barry he probably hadn’t spoken more than a few words, and those only to strangers in the service industry. It wasn’t unusual for him to go months without hearing from his sister, and Mick seemed to drift in and out of his life at random. What different lives they led.

Of course, Len had been taught from an early age to be cold, to close himself off to other people and harden his heart. Emotions had earnt him beatings and so he’d learnt to suppress them. Barry’s openness had genuinely surprised him. It wasn’t something he saw often among the people he kept company with. Barry felt too strongly, wore his heart on his sleeve and was constantly reaching out for physical affirmation.

Len may not have understood everything that was going on in the kid’s life right now, but a picture was rapidly forming from the pieces of the puzzle he did have. The kid was starved for interaction, even affection maybe. The black hole in the sky was three months back, and Barry said he’d been isolating himself ever since.

Len decided to return to the real question that had been gnawing at him since the job. “Even if you are going it alone now, that doesn’t explain why you weren’t there tonight. I know the guards set off the silent alarm, and I know it should have taken you less than a minute and a half to get to the warehouse, no matter where you were in the city when you got the call. So why weren’t you there?”

“Because I knew I could trust you not to hurt anyone. And I… I just… I couldn’t stand going out.” The darkness under the kid’s eyes seemed to intensify and his hands skittered about – his feet were in constant movement too, a quick glance down confirmed - restless like a junkie going through withdrawals. “It’s so lonely without someone in my ear all the time. I didn’t realise how much I’d miss it. I know what I’m doing’s for the best; I’m keeping everyone safe and out of harm’s way.” He huffed out a grim laugh. “Or as out of harm’s way as they can be living in a city full of super powered villains. But some nights it’s so hard to be doing this alone. I mean, you understand, right? Even you have Heatwave and Golden Glider to watch your back.”

“Not always.” He gestured to his bruising cheek, turning it into the light for Barry to see better.

“Oh geez.” He said, wincing. “At least you’re gonna look badass for a few days. What happened?”

Len considered Barry for a moment as he fidgeted in front of him, tracing the whorls in the bar. “You, I suppose.”
    
The kid stilled and his face ran the gamut of emotions, from surprise to confusion to embarrassment. He was so fun to rile up. Barry picked up his beer again and took a sip to hide his face, so Len continued. “Lisa and Mick weren’t too happy I ditched the heist halfway through. Mick is a little more… demonstrative with his displeasure, though I’m sure Lisa will find her own way of making me suffer. But don’t worry yourself too much; we’ll be back together and making your life hell again before you know it.”

“Does this happen often? You guys fighting?”

“It’s not uncommon.”

“So then, what do you do when you get lonely?”

“Hookers.”

Barry spit out the mouthful of beer he’d just taken. He looked frantically, guiltily towards the bartender who was still very obviously making a point of ignoring their presence entirely. Seeing that he wasn’t going to be in any trouble, Barry reached over for some napkins and started wiping at the mess he’d made. Len allowed himself a chuckle at the kid’s reaction.

“But isn’t that… I mean… Well…”

Len decided to take pity and rescue him from his misplaced embarrassment. “It’s just better to keep those sorts of things uncomplicated when you’re in my line of work. I don’t need distractions. I get what I need, and the woman’s suitably compensated. It’s a win-win situation.”

“Oh. I just… I’ve never met someone who uses… well, you know.”

“Your innocence is astounding, kid. Surely you’ve seen your fair share of prostitutes at the CCPD?”

“Not really. I mean, I don’t usually get called in for those sorts of cases, and I spend most of my time when I’m at the precinct in my lab.” Barry fell silently into thought for a moment and then leant into Len’s space. “Does it help?” Len could extrapolate the real question he was asking: would this help me to not be alone and lonely?

Len considered the young man in front of him. Barry was searching for something to replace the void left behind where his friends and allies had been. He needed companionship, warmth, not the business-like touch of a stranger. No, recommending the kid go out and trawl street corners for a friend was not a solution to this problem. But something needed to be done. Len knew he’d quickly grow restless with his work if the Flash wasn’t there to challenge him. Now he knew what was possible, going back to the inelegant hit and run jobs from his past just wasn’t an option. If Barry’s current predicament meant he wasn’t fulfilling his Flash duties properly then something had to be done about it.

How to fix Barry Allen though? Affect a reconciliation between him and his friends? Even if he could convince Barry to try to sort things out, the rest of them trusted him as far as they could throw him. If they found out about Len’s involvement once they were back together they’d convince Barry to lock him up in no time.

Barry continued his train of thought in the absence of Len’s reply, hand running through and messing up his hair. “Because I don’t think I could ever… you know. That’d be too weird. What I need right now is like a hooker, but more of a paid friend? Just someone to be around, you know? To talk to, hug, that kind of stuff. Is that a thing?” He looked up at Len as though he was the expert on the subject. As though what he’d just asked wasn’t ridiculous.

Len held his gaze as thoughts ticked over in his head. An idea sparked in the recesses of his mind, not a perfect or even an elegant one. No, far from it. But if it worked, Len might get what he wanted.

A test then.

“I think paying for a friend is a little too pathetic, even for you.” And as he said it he reached out and grasped Barry’s upper arm, a sign of affection Len had often seen Detective West make towards his adopted son during his surveillance. Barry tensed under his touch for a microsecond but then his whole body leant into it. Len gave himself a mental pat on the back.

While Barry sat thinking and entranced by Len’s touch, his hands remained motionless on the bar top for once. Len wasn’t about to miss his chance. Slowly he let go of his hold and laid the palm of his hand flat on the bar’s surface and began inching it towards Barry’s hand. As the space between them narrowed, the bar seemed to quieten. How Barry hadn’t noticed anything going on yet mystified Len. Finally, with only centimetres separating them, Len reached out only his pinkie to entwine with Barry’s.

The spell was broken and Barry jerked his hand back immediately like he’d been burnt. “What are you doing?”

“I’m fixing this.”

“By what? Seducing me? I’m not interested.”

“And neither am I. But you obviously need human contact and I need a competent opponent who’ll show up on time with his head in the game. If a little bit of hand holding will get me that, I’m willing to take one for the team.”

“You’re crazy.” Disbelief tainted Barry’s voice.
 
“And you’re touch starved and depressed. We’re a match made in heaven.”

Barry huffed out a laugh, but Len noticed he didn’t say anything to deny the diagnosis.
    
“It sounds to me like you miss your friends. And being the paragon of righteousness that you are, you’re not going to fix whatever’s happened any time soon because you think you’re doing the “right thing”. Even though they’re all probably as miserable as you. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we get along well enough for two people on opposite sides of the game. Like I said, you need company and I need someone to keep me on my toes. What do you say?”

The moment stretched out between them. Len would be nervous if he wasn’t such a good judge of character. He knew how this would play out, he just had to wait for Barry to reach the same conclusions. Finally the boy spoke.

“I’m not going to hold your hand in a seedy bar. That’s just too weird.”

Len considered him for a moment. “The Keys, apartment building on the corner of Campbell and 24th Street. Top floor, apartment 512. Be there tomorrow evening after 7.”

With that, he placed a few notes on the bar top and left.

Chapter Text

He was a little late. Well, 35 minutes late. But for him that was practically on time. And if Barry was being honest with himself, he was freaked out about this whole situation. He knew this could all go balls up pretty quickly. Just another of his plans about to blow up in his face. A typical day, really. So sue him for dragging his feet a little.

 

Barry tilted his head back to take in the five storey brick building in front of him. This was where Snart lived, assuming he had given Barry his real address and wasn’t just playing a trick on him. While it had definitely seen better days like most of the buildings in the Keys, it wasn’t exactly the slum he’d imagined it would be before coming.

 

Barry climbed the steps up to the front door and pushed through into a small foyer. Tidy, if not entirely clean. Post boxes lined one of the walls and Barry traced the numerals 512 but there was no warmth there, no portent of things to come. No name either, unlike most of the other boxes.

 

Also lacking was an elevator. The walk up five sets of stairs allowed him to stew even more over his predicament, allowed the writhing, coiling anxiousness to build, densify. At each landing he paused and considered just turning around and going home. It was only a sense of curiosity and helpless isolation that powered him forward.

 

Arriving at Snart’s door, he gave a few short knocks and waited. In the ensuing moments, his imagination began to run wild, conjuring up all kinds of scenarios. Sure, Snart had sounded sincere at the bar, but what if this was just an elaborate set up? Maybe the door would open and Captain Cold, Heatwave, Golden Glider and who knows how many more of his Rogues would be on the other side, ready to hit him with all they had.

 

Why did he even come here? How messed up must he be to think going to his arch nemeses’ place was a good idea. He was going to die. Definitely gonna die. This lapse in judgement was going to get him killed. He hadn’t even brought the Flash suit and the little protection it offered against the Rogue’s attacks with him.

 

But when the door did finally open, it was a petite blonde lady he’d never seen before who greeted him.

 

“Hi sweetie. Lenny’s coming, but I thought I’d make a quick exit and leave you boys to yourselves. I shoulda been gone ages ago but you know how it is. Lenny said you were due at 7 so I thought why not have a little chat until you arrive. But look where the time’s gone and now I’d better hurry up if I don’t wanna be late for my next meeting.” Her voice trilled with warmth and laughter. “See ya, Lenny,” she called back into the apartment as Snart came into view behind her.

 

“See you next week.” He took her place in the doorway as she managed to hurry along the corridor and down the stairs in precarious heels. When she was out of sight he turned his attention to Barry. “Come in and don’t touch anything.”

 

Barry remained in the doorway, still looking back at where the lady who’d come out of Snart’s apartment had disappeared down the stairwell. “Who was that? She seemed nice.”

 

“Her? That’s Angie.” Snart turned and started walking back into his apartment.

 

“Is she a friend?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“A Rogue?”

 

Snart laughed at that. “No.”

 

“Then who is she?” But as soon as he walked into the apartment, he knew. The unmistakeable smell of sex, musky and pungent, hung faintly in the air and Barry suddenly remembered their awkward conversation in the bar. He felt liquid embarrassment flood his cheeks. No doubt he was as red as his Flash suit. “Oh my god, did I interrupt you and your” – his voice lowered to a scandalised whisper – “prostitute?”

 

Snart looked at him with a wry smile before turning back to open up the fridge and pull out two beers. “No, Barry. Angie and I were just chatting when you knocked. We were all done. Here.” He held one of them out to Barry.

 

“Thanks. You know this does nothing to me though, right? Your beer’s going to waste.”

 

“Doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the taste. Come on, sit down.” Snart made his way from the kitchenette to the small couch that took up the windowed side of the main room. There was only one other door besides the entrance, half closed, and Barry guessed Snart’s bedroom was behind it. The room they were in was sparsely furnished, just the couch Snart was now making himself comfortable on, a TV, radiator and coffee table. Barry wandered from one end of the room to the other, inspecting it thoroughly. He couldn’t see anything personal in the space, no photos or mementos. No evidence that Snart lived here. Barry glanced at the bedroom door and wondered if it would be any different in there. Maybe Snart didn’t actually live here. Maybe he’d found some poor holidaying sap’s apartment and claimed it for himself in their absence. Maybe -

 

“Stop pacing, Barry. Sit down.” Barry startled out of his inspection of the apartment and felt a tug of shame in his gut for being unintentionally rude, even if it was to Captain Cold. He hastened to sit down on the opposite end of the couch to Snart, placing his beer on the table. Awkward silence ensued.

 

Despite his best intentions, Barry’s eyes began to wander again. His thoughts followed. Did Snart live here all the time? Nothing in the living room suggested it. Maybe this was just one of the many places he had to lay low in when he wasn’t robbing a bank or museum. If he came back next week would the apartment be empty? Would someone else answer the door if he knocked?

 

“Give me your hand.”

 

Barry jumped as Snart’s voice shook him out of his thoughts again, but then quickly complied, moving closer and reaching out his right hand in the other man’s direction.

 

“What are you going to do?” He asked with a nervous chuckle.

 

No answer came, just Snart collecting his hand to himself. Snart’s fingers finding the spaces between his own and slipping through them. Pushing at first, bending Barry’s hand and wrist backwards. Not painfully, just enough for a pleasant stretch. Then Snart’s thumb was massaging from the base of his palm upwards, dragging tension with it and pushing it out through the tips of his fingers. Barry let his hand be moulded. It had been a long time since he touched anyone without the material of the Flash glove numbing the contact.

 

Snart’s hand moved like the tide.

 

In and out.

 

In and out.

 

Time slowed and passed and Barry let it flow over him. Until there was a tug. His hand entwined with Snart’s - his anchor - shifted and he looked to Snart questioningly. Looked across to eyes filled with the winter sky.

 

The pull came again and he followed it, toppling in slow motion across the border space between them, his head guided down to rest on the other man’s thigh. The hold on his right hand vanished but then reappeared on his left.

 

As tension flowed out through his fingertips, Barry’s world became cotton ball soft. All his senses felt dull except for the tingling touch of Snart’s fingers moving over his.

 

While Snart was concentrating on their hands, Barry reached up a heavy limb to touch his bruised cheek, fingers gingerly skirting around the discolouration before tracing the gentle curve from Snart’s ear to chin with a single digit. Snart flinched away at the initial contact before making a very obvious effort not to react again, the muscles in his jaw tensing under Barry’s finger. But he didn’t tell him to stop.

 

“Has Lisa had her revenge yet?”

 

“No. She’ll take her time. Plan it out. She’s smart like that.” Barry heard the pride colouring his voice.

 

Snart’s fingers ventured from his hand, skimmed along his arm, every point they contacted electric, and ventured to tangle in his hair.

 

But as soon as they were there, they were gone again, pulled straight back out like he’d been bitten.

 

“Do you use enough hair gel?” He sounded almost offended.

 

Barry felt too drowsy to offer any real indignation, but he gave it his best shot. “Shut up. You’re just jealous I have hair.”

 

“Not for much longer if you keep abusing it like this. By the time you get to my age you’ll be half bald.”

 

Barry gave up trying to argue, choosing instead to rearrange himself to rub his hair defiantly against Snart’s sweater.

 

Snart grimaced. “I’m not touching you until you wash it out. Go, there’s a bathroom through there.” He motioned towards the half shut door. Barry eyed it warily; it felt like a boundary he shouldn’t cross. Entering Snart’s apartment was one thing, being invited into the public area of his living room was fine, but going into Snart’s private area, his bedroom, felt like overstepping some boundary that should exist between a hero and his villain. It would muddy the clean lines he’d drawn in his mind. Since entering this apartment though, it felt like things had shifted significantly already. Maybe this would be okay too. Or maybe he should just hightail it out of there right now?

 

But then the decision was all but made for him as Snart pushed him off the couch and he landed in a gangly, ungraceful heap on the floor.

 

“Fine! I’m going!” Time seemed to snap back to its normal pace with every step he took away from the couch, the world sharper and everything feeling like too much again.

 

At least his body still felt loose and languid. He paused just in front of the bedroom door, steeling himself to the idea that he’d soon know more than he ever wanted to about one of the criminals he routinely put behind bars.

 

Inside the bedroom he was hit once again with a new wave of that unmistakeable smell. He’d almost forgotten about Angie in the trance Snart’s ministrations had put him in. His eyes darted around the space, taking in the bed, the rumpled sheets and the total absence of any hint of Snart’s ownership of the room. The walls and dresser were as bare of personal mementoes as the living room had been. Barry thought of the room he’d commandeered at STAR Labs to sleep in, and the one he’d had before that, before he’d moved back in with Joe. His old apartment had been covered in photos and memories. Sure, he’d admit his room at the moment was a bit bare - looking at photos of his friends and family just made him ache inside - but he still had a few around. This… nothingness was almost more disturbing than the hints of a full life outside of crime that he’d expected to find.

 

He turned away from the room and headed into the ensuite, turning on the sink taps and waiting for the sputtering water to even out into a constant flow before dunking his head under the torrent. He stayed that way for a while, closing his eyes and letting the cold water flow through his hair and calm him. Everything here, everything he did in this place, felt tinged by strangeness. He had no idea what he was doing here, washing his hair in Captain Cold’s sink. This was insane. Deep breathes, he instructed himself before the panic could creep in.

 

When he felt slightly calmer, Barry slowly opened his eyes.

 

And caught movement in front of him, in the mirror.

 

A figure.

 

Moving.

 

He whipped around at super speed, the spray from his hair bulleting in an arc across the wall.

 

But no one was there.

 

A little freaked out, Barry remained stock-still waiting for an attack that never came. His heart raced. But no one jumped out of a shadow to assail him. There was nowhere in the small ensuite for someone to hide in to begin with.

 

Barry sped through washing and drying his hair, remaining on alert throughout.

 

He was back out in the main room of the apartment in no time. Snart was where he’d left him, sitting on the couch, nonchalant. Suddenly his little panic in the bathroom felt so silly. His mind was just playing tricks on him, expecting to be ambushed at any moment. But for some reason that hadn’t happened and Snart just seemed to be genuinely interested in helping him. Maybe there was some good in the villain after all.

 

So he returned to his former position and tried to forget about the strange incident in the bathroom. If someone had tried to sneak into Snart’s apartment, Barry had no doubt that Cold would have found them out immediately and dealt with them in the harshest way possible. There was no one else here, and there never had been.

 

As soon as Barry was settled again, Snart’s hands found their way back into his hair. There was no sound of disgust this time. There were no words at all. For a moment Barry was distracted from the stubborn nag of paranoia in the back of his mind enough to be disgruntled that he was being petted like a dog by Leonard Snart of all people, but he quickly let both emotions flow away along with the tension that had been filling him as he relaxed under Snart’s hands.

 

Apropos of nothing, Snart stilled. “You do know I’m not bald? A buzz cut is more practical.”

 

“I know.” Barry assured him and the slow drag of fingers against his scalp started up again.

 

He thought back to lying with his head like this in his mother’s lap when he was a boy. With a book in one hand and Barry’s skull cradled in the other, she’d run her fingers through his hair while clumsily trying to turn the pages one-handed as she read stories to him. Many times he’d fallen asleep in her lap and woken up confused in his own bed, feeling out of sorts and like the world had gone on without him. The sun had been snatched from the sky, the house coated in darkness.

 

The day his mother was murdered had been like that.

 

If Snart noticed the small sobs that wracked Barry’s frame, he did him the kindness of not acknowledging them. When Barry left a couple of hours after he’d arrived, he felt wrung out and hollow but also warm and loose in a way he hadn’t for months.

 

***

 

Barry’s day had been going so well. He’d gotten to work on time, managed to avoid Joe and Cisco on his way up to the labs and that familiar nag of something clawing in his chest that he’d gotten so used to since the singularity was almost ignorable. It had been going so well and then the call came in.

 

They had an agreement, and so he was suited up and at the scene of the crime in a handful of seconds.

 

“How nice of you to show up, Flash. It was a little cold-hearted to leave us in the lurch last time,” Captain Cold smirked as he fired the cold gun in the Flash’s direction from his hiding place behind a jewellery counter.

 

“Isn’t it a little clichéd to be going after diamonds?” Barry returned with a genuine grin, zipping from one side of the room to the other to avoid the shots coming from Cold, Heatwave and Glider’s guns. He’d forgotten that this little dance of theirs was kind of fun when he knew no innocents were in danger. “This isn’t the 1950s and you’re not some villain from a comic book.”

 

Lisa popped up from behind one of the display stands to fire off a stream of gold. “You know what they say, Flash: diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

 

With Snart, Rory and Lisa’s guns following him wherever he went in the restricted area, Barry found it hard to make any headway getting closer to them. He was about to have another go at drawing nearer to their makeshift barricade when Cold yelled, “now!” and a wave of energy suddenly hit him from the side and threw him across the room, into the wall. His body felt like shattered glass as he lay there on the floor, groaning in agony. He recognised this pain, the feeling of his body being ripped apart on a molecule level. Thank god it was just a one off blow this time. He could already feel his body trying to right the damage done. But god it hurt.

 

Snart knelt down beside him, pulling his goggles from his eyes. “As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I made a new friend,” he drawled.

 

“Rath… a… way…” Barry managed to groan.

 

“That’s right. Dear Hart was very enthusiastic to join up. Came to us himself, didn’t you, Piper?” Snart looked off to the side beyond Barry’s field of vision.

 

It felt like an eternity of Barry struggling to fill his lungs with air, each breath feeling like a chest full of daggers, before Hartley came to stand behind Snart, arms crossed. He knew that in reality it had probably only been a few seconds, but pain stretched time thin.

 

“Not like I had many other job prospects after Wells so thoroughly assassinated my character and reputation. The Rogues aren’t exactly on my intellectual level… but then, who is?” Snart cuffed him amicably upside the head as he stood up and Hartley accepted the playful chastisement without complaint.

 

“Lenny! Hart!”

 

Snart’s eyes flicked to the side and Barry could only guess he was looking at his sister and Rory ready to make off with whatever jewellery or precious stones they’d come for. “That’s our cue to leave. It’s always a pleasure, Flash.” Then he was gone.

 

But Hartley took the time to take Snart’s place kneeling beside Barry and leant in close. He regarded Barry’s pained look and laboured breathing for a moment before it seemed he’d found whatever he’d been searching for. He stood back up again and gave a flippant wave as he went in the same direction Snart had headed. “Tell Cisquito I said hi.”

 

Now his body and heart ached.

 

Yeah, this day was a real winner.

Chapter Text

A knocking at his front door surprised Len out of his train of thought. He’d spent half of the day planning out the Rogue’s next heist to the smallest detail, reading over blueprints and coordinating with guard schedules ad infinitum. His living room was littered with papers, a computer running data on the coffee table, he’d taped photos and maps up on the walls.

 

He considered ignoring whoever was at his front door. The other Rogues knew not to disturb him when he was engrossed in his work. They’d set a date and time a few days further along in the week when they’d all get together and go over what Len had worked out, and they wouldn’t dare show their faces before then. The knock came again, louder and quicker this time, and curiosity got the better of Len.

 

His knees ached as he picked himself off the floor. The hurt gradually faded with each step, though it served as a sad reminder that he wasn’t as young as he once was. These days his joints and old scars started aching more as the weather grew colder.

 

Coming to the door, he took a quick glance through the peephole. Barry stood there, image warped fishbowl by the small lens. He was fidgety again. Len pulled open the door.

 

Barry jumped a little at his sudden appearance and then exclaimed, “You’re here,” as if he expected the opposite.

 

Len didn’t question it, just replied in a deadpan mockery of Barry’s own tone, “and so are you.”

 

Barry seemed to shake off his surprise quickly. “You should probably keep your door locked.”

 

“You think anyone would have the balls to steal from me, kid?”

 

“Probably not.” Barry continued to hover in the corridor awkwardly.

 

“So…” Len prompted.

 

“Yeah… Um, are you busy right now?”

 

Len glanced back at his apartment full of incriminating evidence. He should say yes. Letting the Flash in where he could see all the details of the Rogue’s next big score wasn’t the brightest idea. There was still a lot he needed to get done tonight if the plan was to stay on track. But all the contingency plans and extra preparation would be for nothing if the Flash never showed up. Len needed Barry in working order and turning him away now might send him back to the funk he’d been in. He’d almost been his normal self the last time they’d met on the playing field, on time and trading quips like a pro. Len couldn’t allow an emotional backslide, especially not with a heist planned a week from now.

 

“Give me a moment to tidy up and you can come in.”

 

The kid perked up. “Don’t worry about it. You should see my place. Like a bomb hit it.”

 

“I can only imagine. But unlike you, I have some pride. It’ll only take a minute.”

 

Barry, ever eager to be useful, didn’t hesitate to offer assistance. “I’ll help then. I can have it finished in a flash, just tell me what you want done.”

 

Len grimaced at the word play, intentional or otherwise. “It’s fine, just wait out here.”

 

“But-”

 

“Subtly doesn’t work on you, does it, Barry Allen? I’m a criminal, my apartment is currently covered in plans for my next job. You’re the hero who’s always trying to thwart my plans. Do you understand now? I don’t want you to see them.”

 

“Oh, okay then.” And Barry turned around immediately, like the ‘it’ child dutifully not looking while they counted to twenty in a game of hide and seek. How obedient. And how surprising that he wasn’t going to comment on Len’s work. He must really be in a bad state.

 

Len had just moved back inside to start tidying up when Barry started talking again, his voice slightly raised to carry through into the apartment. “You know, I half expected someone else to answer the door when I knocked,” he confessed.

 

Looking back, Len asked, “And why would that be?”

 

“Because I wasn’t entirely sure this was your apartment to begin with.”

 

Len smirked as he tidied papers. “You thought I was squatting?”

 

Barry’s silence answered his question well enough. What a high opinion the boy had of him.

 

Len looked at all the papers, maps and schedules arranged around his living room and decided it was too much hassle. There existed an easier option than taking it all down and cleaning it up. He walked back towards the door and into Barry’s eye line. “I could use something to eat. You in?”

 

“Are you offering to pay?” The impish grin Barry flashed him would have worked on lesser people, but Len had a lifetime of experience not giving in to the exact same thing from his sister.

 

“No. But I will go Dutch with you. Consider that more than a fair deal considering you’re interrupting my work. By all rights I should make you pay.” Len fetched his coat from the hook by the door and locked the apartment behind him.

 

“You know, taking you out to dinner is basically a public service.” Barry rambled as they walked side by side down the corridor towards the stairwell. “I’m keeping Captain Cold from plotting whatever nefarious schemes he has to terrorise the city. That’s a better use of my time than running around hoping to come across purse snatchers or kittens up trees. And I’ll get fed while I’m at it.”

 

“You have never rescued a kitten up a tree.” Len put all the incredulity he could muster into his voice.

 

“Not yet. But I could. I’d be an awesome cat rescuer.”

 

“You keep thinking that. Without Snow and Ramon in your ear, you’d probably try something stupid like that little arm whirlwind trick you have to get it out of the tree.”

 

Len chuckled but Barry didn’t continue the banter. His head was bowed and his expression tight when Len glanced over at him. Shit. That comment had hit a nerve. He’d have to remember not to mention any names from Barry’s life. If his reaction just now was any indication, nothing had changed between Barry and his former allies since Barry had last invaded his apartment. Or were they friends? Whatever. Some kind of relationship that blurred the lines between the two at any rate, in the same way Mick was somehow constantly in his own life despite being a hot-headed lunatic who couldn’t stick to the plan to save his skin.

 

Len bumped shoulders with Barry who startled and flinched away. Shit. He really had gone and stuck his foot in it.

 

His next attempted approach was a lot slower, telegraphed, unhurriedly moving back into Barry’s space until they were walking out of the apartment building’s doors shoulder to shoulder.

 

Len paused on the footpath. “What do you feel like?” He asked, leaning even more into Barry’s space. The fact that Barry mirrored the action, unconsciously or not, reassured Len that he was on the right track.

 

“I don’t know. What’s good around here? This is your neighbourhood, you’d have a better idea than me.”

 

“I don’t really spend all that much time in this apartment to be honest. I’m only here when I need to get away from Mick and Lisa, to let them cool off or for some quiet when I'm planning.” He shot Barry a warning look. “So don’t start getting any ideas. If I hear the slightest hint of a police raid, the whole world will know who the Flash is.”

 

“Calm down. I know how to separate business and pleasure." His face scrunched up. "No, that sounds wrong. Life and work. I know how to seperate life and work. I'll shut up now.” Len smirked.

 

“There’s a bar a couple of blocks over. That sound good?”

 

“A bar?” Barry looked dubious.

 

Len raised an eyebrow at him. “They serve food too.”

 

“Sure, okay. No finger food though, real meals. And not too expensive. You would not believe how much I can eat since becoming the Flash.”

 

“Bar it is then,” Len announced and began walking in the right direction. Barry quickly dropped into step beside him, moving in close like they’d been before. Len wondered if hooking their arms together would be too much. He’d seen the West girl do that during his surveillance. He eventually decided against it when he remembered how Barry had reacted to their hands touching at Saints and Sinners. Maybe he just wasn’t one for public displays. At least not with Captain Cold.

 

They walked in silence the entire way which suited Len just fine. It was the end of October and though the temperature had dropped, with a bit of layering the cold was still bearable in the evenings. The warmth radiating off Barry certainly helped as well.

 

Barry eventually broke the silence. “I guess you like the cold.”

 

“Now what on earth would give you that idea?” Len purred with a sideways glance and a smirk.

 

“You don’t have to be a dick about it. I was just making conversation.” With his hands deep in his pockets, Barry bumped shoulders with Len companionably. The conversation petered off and they kept walking.

 

When they arrived at the bar they ordered and then settled around an empty table near the front, Len with a beer in hand, Barry without, still mostly in silence.

 

“So…” With a grin, Barry leaned in conspiratorially. “You’ve got a heist in the pipeline?”

 

“Yes, and it’s none of your-”

 

Hartley Rathaway flopped down onto the chair beside Barry.

 

“Please tell me you being here means you’ve got everything planned out already, because if I have to spend another day holed up with those three imbeciles and nothing to do, I am going to go insane.”

 

“Hartley.”

 

He started counting on his fingers. One. “Mick lit the kitchen on fire.” Two. “Lisa has been badgering me for information on Cisco.” Three. “And don’t even get me started on Mardon… He’s driving me mad with his weather antics. At first it was kind of cool that he could make clouds inside – and if you tell him I said that I’ll deny it – but he messes around with the indoor temperature and humidity and it’s throwing the tuning out on all of my instruments.”

 

“Hartley. I’m with a friend.”

 

Hartley finally looked in Barry’s direction, seemingly taking notice of him for the first time since arriving.

 

“Well, hello there. I’m Hartley. And you are?”

 

“None of your business, Hartley. Scram.”

 

“Don’t be so cold, Cold. I’m just playing nice.” Hartley studied Barry’s face for a long time as Barry fidgeted nervously. “Don’t I know you?”

 

“I- I don’t think so. I’m… Sam. I’m helping Sn- Lenny out on a job.”

 

“Right. That’s the best you can do?”

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing. I can tell when I’m not wanted.” Hartley grabbed theatrically at his heart as he stood up from the table. “See you around, Flash.” With a wave he was gone.

 

Barry was immediately half standing, leaning over the table and into Len’s space to hiss at him, “You told them about me!?”

 

Chill, Barry. Of course I didn’t. Hartley probably figured it out himself. You’re not the best at this whole secret identity thing. That mask isn’t nearly as concealing as you think it is.”

 

The anger went out of Barry like a deflating balloon. “Yeah, you have a point.”

 

“If you really didn’t want anyone to be able to recognise you, you’d be better off with something that covers your entire face. Like a balaclava. Or a gimp mask.”

 

“I’m going to pretend you never said that.” Their food arrived then and Barry tucked in immediately. “But what about the other thing he said? Mark Mardon joined the Rogues?”

 

“That is correct.”

 

“Mardon wants to kill me!”

 

“And now he won’t. The Rogues don’t kill. We have a deal and I intend to stick to it. And more importantly, I’ll make sure they stick to it too. Don’t worry.”

 

“I’m not worried,” Barry pouted. “But you should definitely cap membership at five.”

 

Len just stayed silent and avoided eye contact.

 

“No way, there’s already more than five of you? Who else? Tell me.”

 

“What? And ruin the surprise? I wouldn’t dare. You already have us at a disadvantage. It’s only fair we get a head start.” With a shit eating grin he stretched out under the table until his legs brushed lightly against Barry’s.

 

“Don’t you find this a bit weird? You were trying to kill me last week.”

 

“I’m very good at compartmentalising.”

 

***

 

Barry became something of a fixture around his apartment in the coming weeks. He’d turn up on Len’s doorstep out of the blue and invade his space without ever really asking permission. Len always let him in and in turn Barry always turned up to Rogue heists and fought with all he had. It became something of an unspoken agreement.

 

Sometimes Len would be busy, and once Barry was in the apartment not a word would be spoken. Barry would find his own space – sometimes curled up on the couch, sometimes lying on the floor, once he even took up residence in the kitchen – and while away the time there.

 

Len found he didn’t mind the intrusion, even came to grudgingly find comfort in the second presence in his little space. It had been a long time since he could just exist in someone else’s company, not have to worry about protecting them like with Lisa and Mick or avoid angering them like with his father and the crews he’d run with before the Cold Gun came into his possession. Barry didn’t need protecting – the kid was stronger and more durable than anyone else he knew – and if he wasn’t going to hurt the Rogues when he fought them, he certainly wasn’t going to attack Len in his own home. He was just a quiet presence who for some reason seemed to find being around Len soothing. Or maybe Len was giving himself too much credit. He probably would have been just as happy with anyone else, it just so happened that Len was available and found the arrangement mutually beneficial.

 

One time when Len opened the door to him, Barry had crowded into Len’s space - being very careful not to initiate contact though - and said, “Don’t pet or stroke me. Everyone always petted or stroked me. I’m not a dog or a cat. Please just hug me.” Len had enfolded the boy in his arms and Barry had sobbed into his shirt until there wasn’t any wetness left in him and he was just heaving air. Then Len had led him into the apartment and laid him out on the couch, covering him with a blanket. The kid slept off his exhaustion while Len used the couch as a back rest and typed away on his lap top. It wasn’t hard to find the records of Barry’s mother’s murder, 20 years ago to the day.

 

When the door to his apartment rattled and Mick entered, Len had just held a finger up to his lips and made the universal symbol for ‘shush’. Barry slept on, unaware of the world soldiering on around him. Len pushed himself up off the floor with a groan and made his way into the bedroom. Mick trailed behind him after a quick detour to swipe a beer from the fridge.

 

As soon as the door was shut, Mick said, “You moved onto rent boys now, Snart?”

 

“Something like that. Why are you here, Mick?” He settled on the bed as Mick stalked around the room, drinking from his bottle.

 

“No real reason. There’s just been rumours.”

 

“What kind of rumours?” A length of nervousness coiled itself in Len’s gut.

 

“The kinda rumours say there’s someone new in town. Meta. Dunno what they do though. No one knows, or else they’re too scared to tell.”

 

“Is that so?” Len asked with a mental sigh of relief. “Think they’re Rogue material, Mick?”

 

“Like I said, I dunno anything about them. Just thought you’d appreciate the heads up.”

 

“And much appreciated it is. Now, if you don’t mind…”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll leave you to your fun. You know you’re s’pposed to pay ‘em to sleep with you, not on the couch, right?”

 

“What can I say, I wore the poor boy out.” Len leered.

 

Mick scrunched up his nose at that and turned to leave. “I don’t wanna know.”

 

Len stayed in the bedroom even after he heard the clink of the bottle on his sink and the front door shut.

 

A new meta. One who apparently had enough self-control to not lurch about making a mess of things and embarrassing themselves like half those gifted with powers the night of the particle accelerator explosion. Len would have to keep an eye out.

 

The Rogues only took the best.

Chapter Text

It had just passed a quarter to eleven when someone started knocking on his door. Len hoisted himself up from the couch where he’d been making notes and went to open it. Barry again. Of course.

 

“Barry.” Len gave him a small nod of the head and moved aside to let him in.

 

“Snart,” He replied with slightly more tension in his voice than usual.

 

Considering the frequency of Barry’s visits when Len did happen to be staying the night in this particular apartment, he wondered how many times the boy had knocked on his door when he wasn’t around. He could practically picture him standing in the hallway, knocking once, waiting for a response for several minutes and then knocking again, just in case. Ever optimistic.

 

“To what do I owe the pleasure this time?” Len asked sardonically as Barry made the short trip from door to living room.

 

“It’s Christmas Eve and I don’t want to be alone.”

 

Len was thrown for a moment by the statement’s bluntness but steeled his expression to stay the same. Barry had generally maintained a sort of pretence to the purpose of his visits, whether by not making any mention of it at all or by making a joke of it. The boy’s current honesty was unexpected, but Len supposed this arrangement they had had been going on for a little over a month now. Things had changed.

 

And was it Christmas already? Not that he and Lisa ever really celebrated it, or any holidays for that matter. Christmas holidays at their house as kids hadn’t been the most memorable or enjoyable times, especially after Lewis came back from his first stint in prison and their grandfather died. And the shops around town had had their Christmas decorations out for sale even before Halloween; it had long ago become simple background noise.

 

“Sit down. I’ll get everything ready.”

 

Barry gave him a puzzled look but Len didn’t explain, just headed into his room to dig out the throw he kept around for whenever Lisa visited. She always complained he kept it too cold in the winter. After throwing it half around Barry’s shoulders, Len settled down in front of his computer, minimised his current screen and started typing. He only turned it so Barry could see once the 8 hour burning fireplace video on YouTube had started playing. “There, doesn’t that make it feel a bit more like Christmas?”

 

Barry burst out laughing and Len found the sound pleased him more than the kid’s previous quiet.

 

“You’re ridiculous, you know that?”

 

“I’m only surprised it’s taken you this long to figure that out. Didn’t the costume and puns tip you off?”

 

Barry relaxed into the couch beside him, a smile still gracing his lips, and Len shifted slightly until their sides joined from knee to shoulder so he could pull half the throw around himself. The boy’s weight wasn’t altogether unpleasant and the warm hum of his body flooded Len’s cool flesh with heat. But then Barry was turning towards him, leaning forward; when he was only centimetres away, Len drew back, turning his head.

 

“Don’t.”

 

Barry stayed where he was for a second, contemplating Len before leaning back into the couch, reaching out his hand to the space where their bodies touched and waiting until Len twined their fingers together.

 

That he could deal with. He relaxed back into his seat as well and tried to find some enjoyment in the unexpected company and sorry excuse for Christmas cheer.

 

For a while the only sound in the apartment was the gentle crackling of the pixel blaze.

 

“I went to see my dad this morning.”

 

“So you’re back on speaking terms with someone besides me? I’m hurt.”

 

“Why do you have to make a joke out of everything?” Len studied Barry’s expression for a moment, judging his sincerity. No hint at the corner of his mouth that a teasing smile was forthcoming, just a slight furrow between his brows. Entirely serious then. In that case…

 

“My apologies. That wasn’t my intention.” A quirk of the lips thrown in just to let Barry know this little chastisement changed nothing. “How is your father?”

 

“Good. Or, you know, as good as you can be stuck in prison during the holidays for a crime you didn’t commit.”

 

Len shrugged. “I wouldn’t know anything about that. When they do catch me and mine, it’s for crimes we definitely committed.”

 

“Yeah, well, that’s what you get for breaking the law.”

 

“Thanks to you, Flash, as far as the system’s concerned now, I haven’t broken any laws.”

 

“And don’t I regret that. Trusting you was the worst decision I ever made.”

 

“It seems to be working out for you now.”

 

Barry didn’t comment on that, just met and held his gaze for a long time, unflinching, as if they were playing a game of chicken. The weight of that look boring down on him, searching inside him was too much eventually and Len dropped his eyes down and to the side.

 

He watched as Barry wrung his hands. “I just hate that he’s right there, so close, but I can’t hug him or hold his hand or touch him in any way. A stupid little plate of Plexiglas and we may as well be worlds apart. It’s even worse now that I know it would be so easy for me to sneak in with my powers to go see him. But that would be breaking the law, and you know how big a stickler I am for the rules.” Len flicked his gaze up to catch the contemptuous upwards pull of Barry’s lips but offered no comment.

 

“Hey,” the speedster piped up again eventually.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Would you read to me?”

 

“Read what?”

 

“I don’t know. Anything.”

 

“You might have noticed, but I don’t have much in the way of literature around here…”

 

“You must have one book somewhere.”

 

Len groaned as he pushed himself up off the couch and Barry moved to let him up, flopping back down into his space and stealing the throw completely once he’d gone. He had no idea why he indulged the brat.

 

There was an unpacked box in the back of the wardrobe in his bedroom that was full of things he couldn’t quite make himself throw away and that’s where he began his search. If his memory served him correctly (and it generally did), there were some books from his and Lisa’s childhood stashed in there. Nothing fancy, just busted up books that had passed through several hands before settling in their own. But they’d been presents at one point and even if he couldn’t remember who they’d come from, presents had been few and far between when he was young. They weren’t so easy to throw away.

 

He re-entered the living-room brandishing one of the battered up paperbacks for Barry to see. “Found this.”

 

Barry frowned. “I don’t think I know that one.”

 

Once Len had sat down again and Barry had made himself comfortable against his side, Len began.

                                          

“High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince…” He kept reading, stories of sacrifice and kindness and broken hearts, ones he thought Barry would appreciate. As time wore on the kid’s body grew heavy beside him, his face inching its way down to rest against Len’s collarbone, eyelashes like shadows stretching out over his cheeks.

 

Eventually he stopped reading, once Barry’s eyes had started to flicker under his lids, chasing dreams. He took his time regarding the kid’s face, looking less like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders in sleep. There’d be the occasional pinching between his brow and Len wondered what phantoms vexed his dreams, but it wasn’t long before his face would smooth once more into something more peaceful, expression lax.

 

Though he regretted doing it, after some minutes Len shook Barry’s shoulder. It wouldn’t do him any good to sleep in such an awkward position, and Len certainly wasn’t sleeping upright at his age.

 

“Barry. Wake up. You have to go home to bed.”

 

Barry fought against wakefulness, his hands coming up to fist in Len’s shirt and his head trying to bury deeper into him. “Don’ wanna.”

 

 An exasperated sigh left him as Len tightly held Barry back by his arms and pulled away from the unhappy speedster. “You’ll hate me more if you fall asleep here and wake up cramped with a crick in your neck. Go home, get some rest. It looks like you need it.”

 

“I don’t wanna go back to STAR Labs. There’s no one there. It’s too big.” Barry’s sleep heavy eyes reached for his heart - “Please. Can I stay here?” - and strangled.

 

“You can’t sleep on my couch, Barry. Look how tiny it is. You’ll be miserable.”

 

“Then I’ll sleep in your bed.”

 

“You’re not stealing my bed.”

 

“I’m not going to steal it. We’ll both sleep in it.”

 

The soft crackling of the pixel fire suddenly sounded like a roar to Len.

 

“Barry, I don’t think that’s a g-“

 

“Please.”

 

***

 

That’s how Len found himself standing awkwardly in his own bedroom.

 

It didn’t seem fair. This was his room, his house, his space. By all rights he should be able to be comfortable and relaxed here, but introduce an awkward, flustered Barry Allen into the equation and all bets were off.

 

He should have seen this coming. The kid’s desperation had been practically coming off him in waves when he’d found him that first time at Saints and Sinners. He’d obviously underestimated how readily he would react to any show of kindness. That need for affection seemed to be lacking in Len and the people he associated with. How could he have guessed how a normal person – perhaps “well-adjusted” was the better qualifier – would react? He’d like to chalk it up to the differences in their upbringing, but perhaps it was something more.

 

At any rate, the situation was what it was and Len just had to deal with it.

 

“Which side do you sleep on?”

 

Barry startled from his staring match with the bed. He seemed to startle a lot for someone who fought people with crazy powers daily. “What? Oh, um, I don’t really know?”

 

Len sighed. “Okay, which side did you sleep on with your last partner?”

 

“It’s… been a while?” Barry said hesitantly while running his hand through his hair.

 

Deep breaths, Len reminded himself. The kid was fragile. Don’t get exasperated.

 

“Take the right then.”

 

“Okay.” But Barry didn’t move from his spot.

 

“What now?”

 

“I was just wondering – I mean, this is pretty awkward – I didn’t bring pyjamas? So, do I need some? Or do you, I don’t know, not wear anything? Because, that’s cool! Totally cool! I’m the one imposing on you and all, beggars can’t be choosers. Not that I’m ungrateful! I’m not! I really appreciate what you’re doing for me and I’ll shut up now.”

 

“I’ve got pyjamas for myself, but feel free to wear your boxers.” And to try and get this moving along and blow through the awkwardness, Len went to grab the aforementioned clothing from his drawers and headed into the ensuite, making sure he closed and locked the door behind him. After brushing his teeth and changing, he exited the bathroom and got into bed.

 

Barry hadn’t moved at all in that time and when he saw that he now had Len’s full attention, he raced through undressing and got into bed at super speed. One moment there was a fully clothed Barry standing metres away from Len and the next thing he knew the same man, bare-chested, was lying beside him in the bed, his clothes inexplicably folded in a neat pile on the dresser.

 

“Well, that’s… useful.”

 

Barry laughed. “You have no idea.” He shifted onto his side so he was looking directly at Len. “So… It’s gotten pretty cold lately.”

 

“You’re going to talk to me about the weather?”

 

Barry pouted. “Not if you’re gonna be snarky about it.” A moment of silence, and then: “How about this then: how’s Rathaway working out for you?”

 

“Why? Hoping for some insider information?” Cheeky.

 

“No, just curious. Cisco and Caitlin made him sound like a real dick and the few times I’ve met him that didn’t seem too far off the mark. Just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d fit in with your Rogues. Too much ego, you know?”

 

“Hart has his quirks but he’s a good kid.” Len had to assume Barry knew Piper’s background from their first tussle so he didn’t hesitate to elaborate. “What happened with his parents and then his old boss has given him a huge chip on his shoulder, justifiably so, but he just needs a project to focus on, something to direct his energy into. He needs to be able to show everyone he’s the best.”

 

“Yeah, the best at making my life hell,” Barry muttered under his breath.

 

“I’ll keep him in line.”

 

Barry looked at him dubiously for that statement.

 

“So you’ve got Heatwave, Golden Glider, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard. Anyone else?”

 

Len smirked. “That’s for me to know and you to find out. Get some sleep, Barry, and maybe there’ll be a present by the fireside from Santa for you in the morning.” With that he turned over and settled himself for sleep, his back to Barry.

 

The blankets rustled as the boy fidgeted for several more moments before he finally stilled into sleep. Len listened to his breaths even out and deepen, letting the rhythm lull him into unconsciousness.

 

Chapter Text

Len tensed, jolted rudely from deep sleep by the unexplainable feeling that something wasn’t right. Fighting all his instincts he kept his eyes closed and his breathing even as he did a quick assessment of his surroundings. He could still feel the heat of Barry behind him, not touching but close enough for him to radiate warmth like a space heater. There were no sounds except their quiet breaths and the muffled traffic far down below outside Len’s window. But something was off.

 

He cracked open his eyes to slits and looked straight into Lisa’s face only inches from his own.

 

“Morning, Lenny,” she whispered with a grin.

 

“What are you doing here?” He didn’t bother asking how she’d gotten into his apartment. Not having a key had never stopped her before, and he had no one to blame but himself for teaching her how to pick a lock.

 

“Just thought I’d see how the plan was going, and wish my favourite brother a merry Christmas.” She pouted. “But it looks like you already got yourself a present.”

 

Len could feel a headache coming on. This was the last thing he felt like dealing with this morning. Lisa may have acted put out at finding him predisposed, but a lifetime spent with his sister had taught him never to take any of her moods at face value. Where Len’s talent lay in planning, Lisa’s was in emotional manipulation and she was a master at it.

 

Thank god Barry hadn’t been roused by Lisa’s presence or this would become ten times worse. Len had no doubt the kid would be mortified to be found in his current situation. Probably wouldn’t be able to tell a convincing lie to explain it away if his life depended on it. First Mick and now Lisa; it was amazing the things Barry Allen could sleep through.

 

He needed to get Lisa out of his bedroom and out of the apartment before Barry woke up and it became more complicated. “Go. I’ll be out in a minute.”

 

Surprisingly, she obeyed him, standing up and exiting the bedroom quietly. Len spared a quick glance at Barry, still sleeping soundly. The kid must be exhausted, or he really was just a deep sleeper. Len didn’t smother the impulse to reach out and run his hand through the boy’s hair as he slipped from the sheets and padded soundlessly out of the room.

 

He made sure to close the door gently, then took a second to compose himself before turning to face his sister. She was in the kitchen, a saucepan of water already boiling away on the stovetop. She quirked an eyebrow at him and he gave a minute tilt of his chin back. The two had quickly developed their own system of nonverbal communication in their childhood, having lived in a house where it was best to be neither seen nor heard. Len supposed that if they had a mind to, they might even be able to hold an entire conversation in public with discrete facial twitches and seemingly inconsequential hand gestures without anyone watching being the wiser. The more Len considered it, the more it seemed like a skill worth nurturing. For now though they would make do using it to order coffee in the wee hours of the morning.

 

Lisa eventually came to stand beside him, two mugs in hand. He accepted his with a genuine smile of gratitude.

 

“Well, sis, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

 

“Do I need a reason to visit my dear brother?”

 

Len went to take a seat on the couch and Lisa followed, sitting down in front of him on the coffee table. “After I expressly told you to leave me alone for a couple of days so I could plan? Then yes, it’s a little suspicious.”

 

“And yet, it doesn’t look like it’s planning you’ve been doing.” She purred with an over-the-shoulder glance back at Len’s bedroom door.

 

Len didn’t even justify that remark with a response.

 

“What about you, darling sister? How are preparations going on your end?”

 

She took a sip from her mug and rolled her eyes. “You mean conning the CEO? It’s a piece of cake. I’ve got him wrapped around my little finger.”

 

They shared a smile, but there was something… off about his sister’s.

 

“Well, I’ve encountered no roadblocks in my planning so far either. When I cased the place, everything seemed to be exactly where the blueprints indicated. I couldn’t find any evidence of them having made any upgrades recently either. We should be right to proceed as planned on the 29th as long as Mardon doesn’t go stir crazy in the meantime and get himself locked up. Now, is there anything else or can I finally go back to bed?”

 

Lisa’s smile faltered for real and her voice cracked slightly as she admitted, “Something’s going on at Iron Heights.”

 

Len leant towards her instantly. “What do you know?”

 

***

 

Barry woke to his phone’s message tone. Groggily he reached out, slapping around until his hand landed by chance on the object he was after. Burying his face into a pillow, he swiped across the screen and began reading the message one-eyed.

 

Riot at Iron Heights. Prison locked down.

 

No no no no no.

 

Adrenaline flooded his system and in the next second he was out of the bed, reading the text again to make sure he hadn’t misunderstood in his semi-unconscious state. It had come from a system Cisco had rigged up that tracked mentions of Central City, criminal activity or natural disasters on the internet and sent text alerts for anything significant. It’d turned out pretty useful considering most happenings ended up on social media well before the police ever heard a peep about them. It was even more useful now when he was trying to do the duties of the Flash without anyone in the cortex acting as dispatch.

 

A riot at Iron Heights. This couldn’t be happening. He’d only seen his dad yesterday. It was Christmas. Nothing bad was supposed to happen on Christmas. Barry had to get to Iron Heights. He had to see if his dad was okay. Who knew what could happen to him with the prison locked down and rioting. Henry Allen wasn’t a criminal, he didn’t have a single violent bone in his body. Barry hoped he’d found someplace safe away from it all where he could hole up until things died down. But if Barry knew his father, he’d be trying to help out in any way he could regardless of his own safety. A riot meant injuries, wounds and death and Henry Allen was nothing if not the paradigm of the selfless doctor.

 

Barry knew he could be at the prison in only a couple of minutes with a quick detour via STAR Labs to pick up his suit. He just prayed his father would be okay until then.

 

He’d need something on besides boxers on his way to STAR Labs though. Staring transfixed at the message on his screen, Barry flashed in the direction of his walk in closet… and ran straight into a wall.

 

“Ow!”

 

At first came the thought that, oh yeah, I’m living at STAR Labs now, followed quickly by, but this isn’t STAR Labs. He finally took in the room around him and registered where he was. Snart’s. Of course. It was all coming back to him now. His shitty Christmas Eve. Avoiding Joe and Cisco at work and dodging calls from Iris on his phone. The murder suicide Singh had assigned him to. Feeling overwhelmed and overworked and wishing he could just stop. Just stop existing. And coming to Snart at the end of it all, seeking the comfort he needed but felt ashamed of needing.

 

This was all spiralling out of control. Logically he knew that. But he didn’t have time for regret right now. Avoidance? Yes. That was why as soon as he pulled on his clothes from the night before, he phased straight through the ensuite’s wall into the building’s corridor. He’d explain this all to Snart later.

 

Then he was off as the lightning crackled around him.

 

***

 

Once Lisa had left, Len went back into his bedroom. He’d heard a thump come from the room during his talk with his sister and assumed Barry had woken up but had enough common sense not to waltz in unprepared to whatever conversation Len and his sister were having.

 

Barry’s clothes were indeed gone from the dresser and the boy was standing fully dressed, facing away from Len and looking out the window onto the street.

 

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty.” Len moved into the ensuite to quickly brush his teeth and splash some water onto his face, then went to grab some clothes for himself, suddenly feeling a little self-conscious being in his pyjamas while Barry was fully dressed. He checked he was still looking away before changing into a shirt and shimmying into some pants before turning back around to face the speedster. The kid was still standing at the window, not having moved or said anything at all while Len got dressed.

 

“Hey, kid, I’ve gotta head out. And no offense, but I’m not leaving you in here alone. C’mon.”

 

Len headed for the door but Barry still hadn’t made any indication of moving.

 

Len was starting to get annoyed. He had to get going quickly and see if what Lisa had told him was true. He didn’t have time to sit around and baby the kid right now.

 

Len moved back towards Barry and went to reach out and shake some sense into him.

 

But as soon as Len jostled his shoulder, the boy shattered.

 

Literally shattered.

 

Like glass breaking, he fell apart into shards that tinkered to the ground until all Len was faced with was a pile of reflective splinters at his feet that soon faded to dust and disappeared.

 

Len didn’t have the time or energy to be shocked. A day where nothing strange or out of the ordinary happened would have been more surprising at this point. Weird crap was routine. He grumbled to himself about how Central City was getting too damn freaky as he exited the bedroom, slamming the door with a harsh bang behind him. It was a futile gesture with no one around to hear it, but it made him feel better and a little more like he was in control of his life. If one of Central City’s bullshit metas wanted to play a joke on Captain Cold, the least he could do was not suffer it quietly.

 

He thought he heard a brash laugh come from the other side of his bedroom door but pointedly ignored it. He could figure this weirdness out another day. Right now he had a more pressing issue.

 

He needed information about what was going on at Iron Heights.

Chapter Text

That evening, Barry flashed over to Saints and Sinners.

 

Snart was exactly where he expected him to be, sitting at the bar, engaged in animated conversation with a man wearing a dark green trench coat and sunglasses. What kind of weirdo wore sunglasses inside at night? Barry was sorely tempted to run over and see if there was any Corey Hart in the jukebox. Snart would probably appreciate the tongue-in-cheek background music.

 

Snart looked over with a grin as Barry stalked closer to them. “I thought you’d turn up sooner or later. Take a seat, Barry. Drinks are on me. We’re celebrating.” Barry continued to hover at a distance though, not sure how this was going to play out. Snart might have been smiling but there was a hint of teeth to the expression.

 

“Who’s this then, Len?” The other man asked.

 

“Forgive my manners. Barry, Tommy. Tommy, Barry. Barry’s a local boy, keeps me on my toes. Tommy’s an old acquaintance, come all the way from Gotham on business. Barkeep!” He shouted. “Another round of Laphroaig for me and my friends!”

 

“Don’t worry about me, Len,” said Tommy, waving off the bartender as he went to pour a second glass. “I’d best be off; I’ve got a schedule to keep to. You better drop by Noonan’s next time you’re in Gotham though. Sean and the boys’d love to see you again.”

 

“Will do. Take care, Tommy. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

 

Tommy guffawed. “Wouldn’t dare.”

 

“And watch out for the bat and the kid in the tighty whities.”

 

Barry guardedly watched him clap Snart on the back, slap a tip down on the bar and leave laughing.

 

“Let me guess, his “business” in Central City is a heist. Is he a new Rogue? Will I be seeing him the next time we go head to head? Is his superpower also making Barry Allen’s life miserable?” Barry kept standing where he was, bristling defensively.

 

“You always think the worst of me, Barry. Of course he’s not a Rogue.” Slightly mollified, Barry took the seat Tommy had vacated, surprised he’d guessed wrong, until… “He’s a hitman.” Barry facepalmed.  “If it makes you feel any better, if Tommy’s after you then you pretty much deserve what’s coming. Real bastards, all of them.”

 

“No, that doesn’t make me feel any better! Jesus, Snart, you know how I feel about that!” But Barry’s righteous indignation seemed to wash right off Snart as he took up the tumbler the bartender had just brought over, tilted and spun it, watching with a single-mindedness as the liquid ran back down the glass’s sides. He took two sniffs before finally taking a sip of the amber fluid, eyes closing in satisfaction. He didn’t give any further heed to Barry’s presence.

 

“Snart…” No response. “Snart…” Nothing again. “Len!” The third time he said it, Snart turned slowly in his direction, slightly glassy eyed. That’s when Barry began to doubt his suspicions. “How many have you had already?”

 

“Just a few. It’s time to celebrate! Lisa was here a little while ago.” He scanned the room. “Don’t know where she is now. We should find her, she can keep drinking with us.” He made to slide off the bar stool but Barry grabbed him before he could.

 

“Nooooo, Lisa does not need to deal with this right now.” Barry kept a hold on Snart’s upper arm to steady the man as he turned back to the bar. “So Tommy had nothing to do with what happened at Iron Heights this morning?”

 

Snart’s eyes searched his face with a slight frown. “No.”

 

“And neither did you?”

 

“Of course not!” He denied vehemently before tilting his head to the side in consideration. “I wish I had though. I wish I’d killed him with my own two hands for what he did to Lisa.”

 

“You don’t mean that,” Barry replied automatically, used to the kind of grandiose, hyperbole statements people made when drunk that they never meant when they were sober.

 

Snart stared straight into his eyes, his gaze intense and cold. “I do,” he enunciated. His next words were breathy though, slightly unbelieving. “The bastard’s dead. He’s finally dead.”

 

There was such relief in those words Barry felt something clench in his gut in sympathy. He suddenly felt so lucky having two great dads in his life that loved and supported him. Even if Henry was stuck in prison forever because of him and he had trouble looking Joe in the eyes right now, he couldn’t imagine the rage Snart must harbour for his father for him to want to go out and celebrate his death. He remembered Joe telling him that Lewis Snart used to take his anger out on his kids, but how bad must it have been?

 

Then he remembered just the other night when he stayed at the man’s apartment. He’d thought it was a little strange at the time but now he suspected there was more to Snart’s unwillingness to let Barry see him getting ready for bed. Who locked the bathroom door just to change and brush their teeth? What had he been hiding? And then there was his aversion to any sort of touch he didn’t initiate himself. Was that a part of it too?

 

Snart raised his glass high. “Merry Christmas, you pathetic old bastard! Rot in hell!” Then he downed its contents in one go.

 

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” Barry murmured to himself, the lines coming back to him suddenly from a compulsory lit subject back in college. It was time to get Snart out of there. More alcohol wouldn’t do him any good and Barry wasn’t about to give him time to re-order. Sometimes Barry hated his need to always do the right thing.

 

“C’mon, Snart. Let’s get you home.” He bodily hauled one of Snart’s arms around his shoulders and tried to get him off the stool and steer him towards the exit.

 

Snart allowed the contact and let himself be dragged along but as soon as they were outside the bar, his dead weight became animated, and Barry found himself pushed up against the wall and blocked in by an arm on each side. “I’ve got you now, Flash,” Snart said in an inebriated drawl with his usual accompanying smirk.

 

“You know, you’re a worse drunk than Caitlin. And that’s saying something.” Barry was less than impressed. The night sleeping beside Snart had done him a world of wonders but dealing with everything today – liaising with the special forces units, getting into the prison, calming it down, the sudden visceral relief (like having a bucket of ice water upended over his head) of finding his father completely unharmed – had drained him of energy and he really just needed some decompression time. He’d even psyched himself up for this confrontation with Snart despite his exhaustion but now that the adrenaline was leaving his system, he just wanted to dump Snart back at his apartment and then go home and get some sleep himself. It had been a long day and he wasn’t in the mood for babysitting.

 

“Don’t be so cold, Barry.” Snart’s eyes flicked down for the briefest of seconds but in the next instant the other man was dropping his arms and turning away. “I know that secretly, in your heart of hearts, you love spending time with me.” Snart started walking in the direction of his apartment, weaving around the pavement like a pendulum with forward momentum.

 

“Whatever, Snart.” Barry jogged to catch up with him. “I’m taking you home, and don’t you dare puke on me.”

 

And with that he hoisted Snart into his arms, bridal style – only daring to do so because at super speed Snart wouldn’t be quick enough to catch that detail in his current inebriated state - and flashed to the now familiar apartment building in the Keys, phasing through the locked door to dump Snart on the ratty couch in mere seconds.

 

Snart blinked up at him owlishly, his face a little paler than normal but otherwise seemingly unaffected by his brush with the Speed Force. Then he looked around in confusion. “Is this my place?”

 

“Yes, Snart. It is.”

 

“Okay. Okay. I need to be in the bathroom right now.”

 

“Wha – oh! Oh shit!” He flashed the man into the bathroom and as soon as he’d dropped him in front of the porcelain bowl, he was emptying his stomach. Barry grimaced. “Ew.”

 

Dry heaves wracked Snart’s body for a while even after the vomit ran out. Eventually Barry gave in to his natural impulses and fetched a glass of water, kneeling beside the man to hand it over and then staying there to rub circles into his back as Snart braced himself against the toilet, took a deep breath and drank.

 

“Feeling better now, Snart?”

 

Snart fell back onto his heels and turned to look at Barry with a wonky smile. “You just watched me puke my guts out, I think you can call me by my first name.”

 

“I don’t know. That’s a tall order, Snart,” Barry teased.

 

“Just do it, Allen.”

 

“Fine, Leonard.”

 

“See? That wasn’t so hard, Barry.”

 

“Yeah, but when you say mine, it just sounds like you’re rubbing the fact you know my secret identity in my face.”

 

“That’s not inaccurate.”

 

Leonard. It had felt weird on his tongue. Leonard Snart or Snart was comfortable. That’s how they referred to him at the precinct, because that’s how you kept criminals distant from you verbally. First names alone were for people you actually knew, friends. But then again, Mick Rory called him Snart and as far as he could tell they were pretty close. So why was he so insistent Barry call him Leonard?

 

Barry supposed it wasn’t quite like asking him to call him Len or Lenny. That’s what Lisa and Hartley called him after all. They definitely weren’t that level of friendly. This was too much thinking for this late at night.

 

He straightened up and held a hand out in Leonard’s direction. “C’mon, Leonard. It’s getting late.” Nope, still felt weird to call him that. This was going to take some time.

 

Leonard allowed himself to be hauled up and Barry waited patiently as he quickly brushed his teeth and rinsed his mouth out.

 

“That better?”

 

“It no longer feels like something curled up in my mouth and died.”

 

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

 

Leonard trailed after Barry as he left the bathroom, headed through the bedroom and back out into the living room. Followed him all the way to the front door and probably would have kept shadowing him out into the corridor if Barry didn’t turn around and stop him.

 

“I’m going home.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“And you’re staying here.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“So you can’t follow me.”

 

Leonard seemed to startle out of whatever daze he was in and realise what he was doing. “Oh, sorry.” A twinge of worry in his gut made Barry follow him back into the apartment, just to check that he would be okay when Barry left. Instead of heading in the direction of the bedroom, Leonard started arranging himself on the couch, lying down full length and cushioning his head against the arm rest.

 

“You’re going to sleep on the couch?” Barry asked in disbelief. He remembered the fight Leonard had put up just last night when he’d tried to do the same.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“But your bed’s in the next room?”

 

“Here’s good.”

 

When did Barry become the designated driver? Not being able to drink sucked when everyone else could and did. He’d never thought looking after his drunk friends would end up being a regular part of his Flash duties; surely there were more worthy uses for his powers. And yet here he was, untying Captain Cold’s laces and shucking off his shoes before he could dirty up the couch any more than it already was.

 

“You’re a good kid, Barry Allen.”

 

“Thanks. That means a lot coming from you.” Barry almost felt bad for the sarcasm infecting his voice but the feeling passed quickly when Leonard painfully gripped his knee to catch his attention.

 

“You know I’m using you, don’t you?”

 

Barry gave him a sad smile. “Maybe I’m using you, too.”

 

Leonard seemed to give that some thought for a moment, his head tipping to the side and a slight furrow developing between his eyebrows. “Then the least you could do is bring me a blanket.”

 

Barry gave a vexed sigh but did as he was told, grabbing the more substantial doona and, after a little thought, a pillow as well from the bed. When he re-emerged from the bedroom Leonard had his eyes closed and was breathing deeply. Barry approached and placed the doona over him and then hovered awkwardly with the pillow, debating whether rousing Leonard to hand it to him so his neck wouldn’t be sore in the morning was worth having to deal with more drunk Captain Cold or not.

 

That was decided for him when Leonard’s hand reached out again and grabbed his wrist this time, pulling him down. Leonard’s eyes blinked open heavily and he considered the pillow in Barry’s hand for a long time before taking it with his free hand, not letting go of his hold on Barry.

 

“Think I could have my hand back soon?” Barry asked nervously.

 

Leonard said nothing in return, just kept his hold and regarded Barry’s face.

 

“You were there. This morning.” He nodded, as though confirming it to himself. Then his face screwed up. “But then you weren’t. You broke. I broke you.”

 

Then he tugged and before Barry could register what was happening, Leonard had half risen and there was the brush of lips, slightly off centre on his own, barely there. “Please don’t break,” ghosted between them. It lasted only a second before Leonard was laying back down on the couch, pulling the doona up to his neck and getting the pillow comfortable under his head. Then he was asleep again.

 

That was… weird. Drunk Captain Cold was weird.

 

Barry backed away until he hit the wall. He slid down it and just sat there for a while watching the slight rise and fall of the doona covering Leonard. Just when he thought he had things worked out, Leonard went and changed the game on him. Why did it always feel like Captain Cold was one step ahead of him? Like he knew things Barry could only guess at? Like he was playing chess but Barry only knew checkers?

 

Leonard’s touch remained as a handprint of warmth on his wrist and Barry’s lips tingled where they’d been kissed. Had it been a kiss? It could have just as easily been Leonard misjudging the distance trying to get close enough to whisper something. Only the last time they’d been together Leonard had rebuffed Barry’s attempt to kiss him. Looking back on it now in a calmer frame of mind and with a decent night’s sleep behind him, Barry could admit how stupid it had been.

 

He was just grateful Leonard seemed to understand him better than he did himself. He’d seen through Barry that first night at Saints and Sinners - the night that had started it all - and he seemed to have nothing but Barry’s best interests at heart since then (as long as they coincided with his own, of course). The attempted kiss had been a silly impulse, Barry confusing kindness for love like he always did. Even the memory of it made his cheeks heat up in shame.

 

He assumed that Leonard had been telling the truth that first night at Saints and Sinners, that he truly wasn’t interested in Barry in that way, just wanted to do something to get Barry to be diligent in his Flash duties. Until this moment, nothing he’d done had contradicted that.

 

But then what was that just now? How was he supposed to rationalise what he was 80% sure was meant to be a kiss?

 

Was it a thank you maybe? Was Leonard thanking him for something? What did he have to thank him for? Besides getting his drunk ass home.

 

He knew he’d go crazy if he tried to work out a drunk Captain Cold’s intentions in the bone-weary state he was currently in. Better to get some sleep and try to make heads and tails of these emotions in the morning.

 

He filled a glass of water and placed it on the coffee table in front of the couch and then called the lightning to him and raced off in the direction of STAR Labs.

 

***

 

Len dragged himself from sleep to be greeted by an unease in his gut and a pinching behind his eyes. This was joined pretty quickly by an ache spreading out from his neck and shoulders and radiating down his back as he half rolled/half rose to sit up. Shit, he’d slept on the couch. What a stupid thing to do.

 

“You’re up.”

 

He looked around and there was Barry Allen standing in front of his stove, fiddling with something in a frying pan. The kid’s energy and general joviality just made him feel ten times worse in comparison.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

Len rubbed his hands over his face. “Seedy.”

 

“Well, I’m making bacon and eggs. I always heard an oily breakfast was good for you after a big night out.”

 

Len honestly didn’t know if he’d be able to keep it down, but when Barry brought over the plate piled high with crispy bacon and fried eggs, the smell of it had him salivating like a dog. He tucked in and felt more and more human with every bite.

 

“Not that I’m not grateful, but why are you in my apartment cooking me breakfast this fine morning?” He asked once he’d made a decent dent in his plate.

 

Barry had returned to the stove and seemed to be making more, Len assumed for himself. “You weren’t doing too well last night. I thought you might need a pick-me-up this morning.”

 

“You were here last night?”

 

“Yeah, I brought you home from Saints and Sinners. Don’t you remember?”

 

“Not really, no. It’s all a little bit fuzzy.” And it really was. He remembered heading to Saints and Sinners fairly early in the evening with Lisa, having a few drinks with her before Tommy arrived and they started reminiscing about the short stint Len had had in Gotham before it got too crazy for him there and he’d come back home. That’s where things started to run together. Now that Barry mentioned it, he could picture the boy turning up at the bar, but how much of that was actual memory and how much of it was him filling in the blanks he couldn’t say. He definitely didn’t remember getting home though.

 

As he was puzzling that over, Barry switched off the stove and came to sit beside him with his own plate. “Do you want more?” He asked, brandishing it in Len’s direction.

 

“No, this should do me fine. I wouldn’t steal food out of a starving speedster’s mouth.”

 

“Aren’t you a saint.”

 

“I try.”

 

“You always have to have the last word, don’t you, Leonard?”

 

“Only with you, Barry.”

 

Leonard? When had that happened?

Chapter Text

“That’s a lot of Rogues.” Barry muttered under his breath after the situation had been explained to him. To the officer in charge he said, “Tell your men to pull back and set up a police cordon along a two block radius. This could get messy.”

 

He’d been at his lab, running a dirt analysis when the call had come in to the precinct that the Rogues were out and about and causing havoc. No one seemed to know what their objective was, just that they were making a nuisance of themselves downtown. There were initial reports of Captain Cold, Heatwave, Golden Glider, Weather Wizard and the Pied Piper being on the scene and Barry was glad for the forewarning because he could only spot about half of that number from where he was standing at the moment and damn it, one of them was Trickster junior. That’s the kind of surprise he could do without.

 

If only half of them were here, then the other half of the Rogues must be somewhere else pulling off the real job. That or they were somewhere close waiting to ambush him, but this just screamed distraction.

 

Barry flashed towards the group, skidding to a stop a couple of metres away from them. “What are you up to, Cold?”

 

“Oh, you know, Flash, just blowing off some steam,” Snart drawled as Rory and Walker tensed behind him.

 

“Well it ends now. You can’t just go around causing trouble. I won’t let you.”

 

“And how exactly are you going to stop me? In case you haven’t noticed, you’re outnumbered. No cavalry’s coming to save you.” He waved dismissively. “Why don’t you just run along home and let the adults get back to work?”

 

Barry grit his teeth in annoyance. “Sure, I’ll let you get along with… whatever this is, if you tell me where the real job’s going down.”

 

The micro-expression of irritation that crossed Leonard’s face warmed Barry with satisfaction. It was proof that he’d guessed right about this attack being two pronged. Proof that Leonard thought he wouldn’t be quick enough to figure it out before it was all over. Getting one up on Captain Cold always felt like a major achievement.

 

Barry instinctually reached up to touch the comms planted in the lightning bolts over his ear but stopped just short. It had been months since he’d turned the communications system on, months of silence in his earpiece. He knew Cisco would still have it open on his end though. Knew it deep in his gut without having any evidence to prove it. Knew Cisco would be back in the cortex tomorrow as if nothing had ever happened if Barry would just pick up a phone and ask. His hand hovered over the Flash symbol on his chest plate.

 

And then he raced back to the police cordon.

 

“This is just a distraction. Lisa Snart, Mark Mardon and Hartley Rathaway are unaccounted for, probably pulling off the real heist. Send men to scope out all the major banks, galleries, jewellery stores, anywhere you think might have something they want. Get Cisco Ramon in the Meta-Human Task Force on it. He’ll know what to do. I’ll keep these three busy for now but let me know as soon as you hear anything.” The police officer startled and Barry almost thought he’d said all that at super speed and would have to repeat himself slower but in the next second the officer was on the radio relaying what Barry had said to headquarters.

 

That done, he ran back to Snart and straight into a blast of cold to the face. Thank god for super speed. He ducked under it and ran around the Rogues, just to watch them all spin around startled a second later.

 

“I don’t like being ignored, Flash.” Cold grit out through clenched teeth.

 

Barry bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, shaking out his hands before settling into a runner’s crouch. “Aw, don’t be jealous, Cold. I’m all yours now.”

 

“Less flirting, more fighting!” Roared Rory, ever the hothead, blasting a wave of heat in his direction. Barry dodged it easily enough from his starting position but in doing so ran right into one of Walker’s yoyo attacks. As soon as he felt the yoyo hit his side, he was off and running in the opposite direction. His speed let him get a bit of distance away before it exploded - enough that the blast sent him flying but left him mostly unharmed - although the back of his uniform still got singed.

 

Barry lay face down on the asphalt, groaning. Three-on-one sucked.

 

A deep breath and then he was up and running again as a shot of cold iced over the space he’d just been. A beam of hot and cold chased him as he ran circles around the three Rogues but suddenly he was slipping, not on the ice from Cold’s gun but on… a banana peel!? Damn Tricksters. Couldn’t they use normal weapons like everyone else?

 

Barry caught himself against a shopfront and then spun around to glare at Walker. Captain Cold and Heatwave were predictable; he’d dealt with them enough that he knew their patterns. Their only weapons were the cold and heat guns, backed up by brains and brawn. If he took Trickster out of the equation now, it would be him against those two. That would be much easier. Trickster first then.

 

He made a run towards Walker, his hand clenched into a fist ready to deliver a KO punch.

 

But then the boy shot upward.

 

He was flying!?

 

That was the last thing Barry needed. Flying villains. He could totally picture an army of Axel Walkers in blue bellhop uniforms and wings, Cold behind them cackling, “Fly, my pretties, fly!”

 

Barry looked up at propulsion jets on the bottom of Trickster’s boots and a Cheshire cat grin. “Boom,” Walker mouthed.

 

And then Barry was being bombarded by cherry bombs with more than the usual amount of punch. As quickly as Barry darted around, he couldn’t evade them all. Each time he was hit, he slowed down and the more he slowed down, the more he was hit.

 

A bomb to the back of his calf finally brought him down. The wound burned but he could already feel it healing, a maddening itch as the damaged flesh knit back together. A little longer and he’d be able to run on it again. He just had to keep the Rogues distracted until then. Get one of them monologuing and that should fill in the time.

 

Trickster came to hover over him menacingly, a rubber chicken of all things in each hand.

 

“Is this where you tell me your evil plan?” Barry asked with a grin, trying to be nonchalant.

 

“No, this is where I hit you with these rubber chickens and send you to kingdom come.” Barry didn’t think it was possible but Walker’s grin grew even wider, splitting his face in a cruel gash. “There won’t be much left when I’m done with you.”

 

“Axel! Cool your jets!” Cold snarled.

 

“Why? Why should I?” Walker spun around to face Cold, arms spread. “I’ve got the Flash right here, powerless and at my mercy. Why shouldn’t I blow him up?”

 

A blast from the cold gun sent Walker wheeling from the sky to crash land not too far away to Barry. Cold loomed over the cowering boy, the cold gun pointed at his chest.

 

“Your father was a madman but I thought you could be reasoned with. Rogues don’t kill and we especially don’t kill the Flash. Have you seen the freaks he fights? And I’m not talking about purse snatchers and belligerent drunks. Do you think we’d stand a chance against them? No.” A quick kick to the kidneys punctuated his declaration. Walker curled up into a ball to protect himself but no further attacks came. “If you want to try to stake a claim with that other speedster or the giant psychic gorilla running around, that’s your prerogative. But you’ll do it alone.” The usual Captain Cold pause for dramatic effect. “So, what’ll it be?”

 

Walker uncurled and lifted himself up until he was resting on his elbows and cocked his head. It only took a moment for him to decide and for that brash smile to return. “Don’t kill the Flash. Got it.”

 

“Attaboy.” Cold gave him a playful slap on the cheek and a hand up. Barry just watched, fascinated by Leonard’s show of power over the other Rogue. He didn’t usually get to see this side of the Rogues’ dynamic. The rest of the team had run like a well-oiled machine up until this point but obviously Walker was still being broken in. Barry was half in awe of how Cold had taken control of the situation and half shaken by how readily he’d used violence against a teammate.

 

He was only brought back to his current predicament when, dispute settled, both men returned their attention to him. A quick glance behind him confirmed Rory was still in the game too. By then his calf was back to perfect though, and he was ready to go.

 

***

 

A bit more dodging flame and ice and exploding everythings and Barry was starting to get the upper hand finally. He was even giving as good as he got in the banter department. He was on a roll.

 

Of course, that was the moment that a loud crash rang out, followed shortly by a van careening down the empty street trailing police line do not cross tape like it had run through some demented ticker tape parade. It squealed to a stop behind Cold and a maniacally grinning Lisa leant halfway out of the driver’s side window to whistle. “Wrap it up, boys! It’s time to hit the road.”

 

A wicked grin spread across Cold’s face but he never took his eyes off Barry. “Welcome back, sis. We’re almost done here. Just give us a minute to finish up.”

 

Barry starting circling around Cold, Heatwave and Trickster. Two guns and a pair of fluffy dice followed his every move. “You know I can’t just let you walk away, Cold.”

 

“I’d like to see you try to stop me, Flash.”

 

He’d just started running at the man when the back doors of the van slammed open and Barry was buffeted off course by a blast of wind coming inexplicably out of the small space inside the vehicle. Suddenly it escalated and he was being pummelled by gale force winds. It took all his energy to simply not be blown away, much less make a move forward. As Barry leant into the wind, trying to keep his balance, Mark Mardon hopped out of the van.

 

He gave a nod of greeting. “Hey Flash.”

 

“Mardon. Always a pleasure,” Barry replied through clenched teeth.

 

No current way forward, so Barry would just have to go back. He let the wind catch him, used the momentum of it to spin around and run out several kilometres in the opposite direction. He took a wide turn before heading back towards the Rogues from an entirely different course than he’d left on. That should catch them by surprise, if only momentarily. He’d take any advantage he could get.

 

At least he didn’t have to worry for his or anyone else’s life while fighting Mardon this time. Cold had made it abundantly clear there wasn’t to be any killing. But Weather Wizard could still do a lot of damage, cause a lot of pain without straight up murdering him. All the Rogues could.

 

Barry ran straight through the gathering of villains, as fast as he could, scoping them out as he went. Lisa was still hanging out the van’s window, obviously enjoying being a spectator to this little tussle. Although the rest of the van’s windows were heavily tinted and impossible to see through, he caught a quick glance of Hartley behind Lisa through the driver’s side. He was in the passenger seat, in full costume but with a bored look on his face, his legs stretched out on the dash. That was everyone accounted for. The other four had grouped roughly together not far from the van, forming a little circle so they could keep a 360 degree lookout. A couple of them tried firing after him, but with their (comparatively) slow reaction times he was well clear by the time they’d even pulled their triggers.

 

Another lap around downtown brought him back, coming in from the east this time. He began to decelerate as a plan formed half-baked in his head. He was going up against cold, heat, the weather and 70 odd kilograms of malicious crazy. If he could get the dominoes falling, he could topple this whole heist before lunch.

 

Half-baked ideas of ice-heat-water-lightning-(hand buzzer?)-shock ran through his head at a mile a millisecond. He considered using himself as a makeshift icy pole stick that Rory could then melt but rethought that idea pretty quickly. It would hurt too much. Where was the closest fire hydrant? There!

 

He ran to it and vibrated the outlet cap until it fell off and water starting gushing out.

 

By this point the Rogues had spotted him and begun firing again. He was just about to dash out of there and get far enough away to have a few seconds of peace to figure out how to get Mardon to bring the lightning when Cold fired his gun and froze the water pouring from the hydrant, stopping the stream instantly in a glittering almost sculpture. A shit eating grin was plastered over his face when Barry turned to look at him so he must have had an idea of what Barry was up to.

 

Fine. Two could play at that game.

 

“Hey, Heatwave!”

 

Mick Rory startled from his position behind Cold, obviously not used to being deferred to in the middle of things. “Whaddya want, kid?”

 

“When are you gonna bring the heat?” Barry tried out his own cocky grin.

 

Seeing the annoyance flare on Rory’s face (and a matching expression on Cold’s), Barry quickly ducked under cover behind the frozen geyser. This was almost too easy. Of course Mick didn’t listen when Cold yelled at him, “Mick! Don’t let him bait you!”

 

And now the stream was liquid again. The hydrant itself was a little worse for wear as well – a bit melty, somehow Daliesque. Barry felt a bit bad about the public property destruction.

 

Now that that was done, he raced out a couple of kilometres from the Rogues, ready to come back in from another direction and keep them on their toes. Mardon should be as easy to egg on as Rory. If Barry used himself as bait he was sure he could get Mardon to aim a bit of lightning at the puddle now forming all over the street and give the heavy hitters enough of a shock to knock them out of the battle. Then there’d just be Hartley and Lisa to deal with and those two weren’t likely to resort to fisticuffs. He could probably reason with them to turn themselves in peacefully.

 

Barry swung around and headed back towards to the assembled Rogues, planning to zoom into the middle of them and then finish this all off. What he didn’t expect was for Cold to anticipate his new trajectory and he certainly wasn’t prepared for him to already be coating the road on his way with a layer of frost.

 

Barry’s feet hit the path of ice Cold had fired in front of him and lost all traction. He skidded along, arms and legs pin wheeling as he tried to stop his forward momentum and keep himself upright at the same time. He had only seconds to brace as he saw the windows of an office building foyer rushing towards him, his own reflection sliding towards him in a collision course. He was going too fast. He couldn’t stop.

 

Barry angled his upper body towards the window as best he could, hoping to hit it there and get away with only a dislocated shoulder. He’d learnt from experience that the larger bones were easier to fix and quicker to heal than the small ones in his arms or legs. That one time he’d smashed up all the bones in his hand punching Tony Woodward at supersonic speed had been the worst. The creeping, itchy feeling of bones knitting back together inside his hand had been torturous, like pins and needles if the pins and needles were angry fire ants, biting and biting and biting. Barry had pretended he was fine in front of Cisco and Caitlin and then hidden, curled up in a corner of one of Star Labs’ medical rooms until the healing had finished, his eyes shut tight and his hand held close to his chest by the uninjured one. He’d wanted to scratch the pain out so badly.

 

No, much better to take the brunt of the impact on his shoulder.

 

Time slowed down around him as adrenaline and the speedforce kicked in. The wait was agonising. A moment before he hit the glass, Barry squeezed his eyes shut and prayed for the best.

 

But the hit never came.

 

He opened his eyes but that didn’t stop him tripping over his own feet and sliding back the way he’d come on Cold’s path of ice.

 

But that was impossible. He couldn’t be going this way because he hadn’t turned around. By all rights, he should have smacked straight into the glass.

 

He looked around and something was wrong. Something was different. He just couldn’t put his finger on how.

 

Slowly picking himself up, Barry looked for the Rogues’ getaway van. It was still there but the motor wasn’t idling anymore and Lisa had disappeared from the driver’s seat. In fact, now that Barry looked around properly, everyone had disappeared. There was no sign of the Rogues, no sign of the police or the usual audience who gathered behind them to watch Central City’s Flash fight the bad guys.

 

And it was quiet. No murmur of traffic from police cordon the next street up, no hum of people talking, no sirens or explosions. None of the usual sounds of the city. Everything was quiet and still.

 

He turned back around to look at the window he should have smashed through. It was intact, not a scratch on it. But the signage for the office was different, backwards. The name of the building next to it was the same, reversed.

 

Barry flashed to the nearest police car, sliding into the driver’s seat from the right side and taking the radio in hand.

 

“This is Barry Allen from the CSI department. Can anyone hear me?”

 

No response came. There wasn’t even the usual crackle that signified an open line. It may as well have been dead.

 

Barry exited the car. He was starting to get majorly freaked out. Where was everyone? What was this strange backwards world?

 

He kept moving away from the scene of the fight, turning in circles, searching for life when a hollow pounding suddenly broke through the silence.

 

In an instant he’d flashed back to the window he’d expected to smash through but there was no one there and nothing seemed to have changed. He was about to go searching again when the echoing thud sounded once more and the window rippled.

 

“What the hell?” Barry whispered, reaching out to touch the epicentre of the waves. The glass felt solid under his fingers despite its movement.

 

He definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Chapter Text

“Flash!” Len pounded on the shop front window that Barry had disappeared into.

 

It didn’t budge any more than a normal window would, just sent ever increasing jolts of pain up his arms each time they impacted against the reinforced glass. That didn’t stop him from continuing though; it wasn’t anywhere near the worst pain he’d been in.

 

The only reason he did stop was because suddenly there was an unfamiliar voice saying, “awright, pal. Did you like that then?” A man in a green coat and orange turtleneck appeared out of nowhere off to Len’s side, a beanie pulled down over his hair and hands in his pockets. Every weapon was instantly aimed in his direction.

 

Len spun on him too, the cold gun joining the multitude. “What did you do?” he snarled. When his question went unacknowledged, he advanced until the gun’s muzzle nestled into the man’s chest and then switched off the safety. The cold gun whirred to life and began its organic hum as the familiar cold started to slowly radiate up his arm. The man would surely feel it from the other end too. “What did you do!? Where is he?”

 

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” the stranger answered with a smug grin.

 

“Bring him back!” As far as he could see, Len’s threat to shoot didn’t seem to be having any effect on the man’s readiness to offer up information, so he holstered the cold gun in favour of grabbing a hold on the man’s lapels and slamming him into the windowpane. If imminent death wasn’t a motivator, maybe a bit of hurt would get the job done. “We don’t kill speedsters! That’s the rule.”

 

The man’s smile remained unwavering. It was really starting to get on Len’s nerves.

 

“Oh, he’s not dead. Just in the mirror world.” The man leant away from Len, sinking into the slightly mirrored surface of the window as easily as if he was ducking his head underwater in a bath. When everything above his nostrils was masked in reflection, he continued. “And I’m not one of your Rogues to begin with now, am I? I dinnae have to follow your rules. Now dinnae you worry, he’s perfectly safe and sound… as long as that’s how I want him to be.”

 

One final disembodied Cheshire cat grin and he pushed back out of the window and against Len, dislodging the other man’s hands from his clothing and forcing him to step back. Len watched as the meta brushed himself off, straightened his lapel and said, “you don’t want to push me, pal. We could be good friends if you play your cards right. Aye, I reckon this could work out nicely for all of us. So dinnae you ever lay your hands on me again.”

 

Len side-eyed him warily. “Who are you?”

 

The man walked away a few steps before turning back around to face Len and answering.

 

“You can call me the Mirror Master,” he said with a flourish and a gapped tooth smile, “Since I hear code names are popular around here. I’ve a unique set of skills. You’ve experienced some of them yourself firsthand already, haven’t you?  I thought we could work together.”

 

Len decked him. But like the Barry mirage in his bedroom, Mirror Master just shattered into a million reflective pieces. Len let out a feral snarl; seeing that smug Scottish bastard laid out on the sidewalk with a bleeding nose would have done wonders to fix his mood right now.

 

“Now, now, that wasn’t very nice.” Len whirled around, trying to find the source of Mirror Master’s voice but he was nowhere to be seen.

 

“I don’t like this,” murmured Mick, drawing closer to Len’s position. In fact, all of his Rogues were forming up, a sign they were all as equally rattled by this newcomer as he was but also that they were ready to face whatever came next as a unified front.

 

“Just do what I say and everything will be fine,” Len assured Mick. The hollow laugh that followed that statement rattled all the glass surfaces in the area and did nothing to calm Len’s nerves. He looked around. While Mardon, Mick and Axel had drawn close to him near the storefront, at some point Lisa and Piper had got out of the van and were standing together with the vehicle covering their backs. Although he knew that in most circumstances she wouldn’t need it, Len felt a little better knowing his sister had someone close by to help her if things got messy.

 

“I don’t work with people I don’t trust,” Len enunciated. “And so far you’ve broken into my home and interfered with one of my heists. Doesn’t really endear you to me. Sorry, but there’s more chance of me hunting the real you down and killing you than of me working with you.”

 

“So frosty, big man. You forget, I’ve been watching you. I know your secrets.” The disembodied voice was really starting to piss him off. He wanted someone solid around who he could punch.

 

“Blackmail. Very original.” And although Len tried to sound confident, there was one little lie by omission he’d been perpetrating for several weeks now that could very easily destabilise his control over the Rogues if it came out in this way. Piper wouldn’t care – Hartley didn’t know the extent of his and Barry’s relations but he’d seen them together and hadn’t reacted badly, just been more smug than usual for a week afterwards – but Mick would probably pitch a fit, maybe hit him, and Mardon definitely wouldn’t work with them again. He’d see Len’s ultimatum to not kill Detective West as an emotional decision rather than a rational one. He’d question Len’s position as leader but mostly he’d just feel cheated. Lisa… Lisa would probably laugh. He’d never hear the end of it.

 

To think that one day the Flash would be his dirty little secret. It would be amusing if his livelihood wasn’t currently hinging on keeping that secret.

 

“Not blackmail. Just a better idea than most of what’s really important to you, eh?”

 

“No!”

 

Len spun around at Piper’s cry. The young man had his gauntlets raised at the van’s windows. Before Len had really had a chance to process the scene unfolding before him, Piper was firing his weapons and all the windows were exploding in a blast of glass and Piper was clawing to get the door open but she wasn’t inside the van, she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

 

Len didn’t even think, he just started running.

 

“Lisa!”

 

***

 

A feminine yelp drew Barry’s attention from the storefront window to the Rogue’s getaway vehicle. He turned just in time to see a leather clad figure fall the short distance from car window to gravel. In an instant he’d flashed over and was helping Lisa get back up onto her feet.

 

As soon as she was upright again, she was pushing him away and launching herself back at the window. “God damn it!” But like Barry she soon discovered the windows were a one way street only and didn’t open up again when hit from this side.  

 

A disgruntled huff of breath and a “hey Flash” and then they were both ducking as the van’s window exploded inwards like it had been hit by a Canary Cry. Lisa took a wobbly step back, face covered by her arms. They both remained still, hunched over and tense for a moment but nothing else happened.

 

Barry hovered awkwardly behind her, finally straightening up before clearing his throat and asking, “Lisa, what’s happening? Where are we?”

 

“Some douchebag” - the insult was yelled into the distance – “is having a dick-measuring contest with my brother, that’s what’s happening.” She kicked out at the van’s tyre and then turned to scream into the sky. “Take me back!”

 

The city remained as silent as it had been since Barry first arrived in this weird backward world.

 

“I don’t think anyone can hear us here. I think we’re alone.”

 

Anger apparently now all vented after her little outburst, Lisa was calmly sizing up the area like Barry had done when he’d first arrived. “Oh, he can hear us alright. He calls himself “Mirror Master”” – Cisco would love that – “and this is the “mirror world”.” The disdain in her voice and the air quotes made very apparent how unimpressed she was with this whole situation. “He’s just doing the whole overdramatic supervillain thing and making us stew.” She squared her stance and once again yelled into the distance. There was no tinge of anger in her voice this time though, just calm Snart control. “This isn’t my first kidnapping! Just show yourself and let’s get this over with.”

 

“You’ve got some fire in you, lassie,” came a voice from behind them. Barry yelped and spun around but Lisa kept her cool, taking all the time in the world to pivot around gracefully to face the source of the noise. Cisco had certainly known what he was about when he named her Golden Glider.

 

In the building window a man stood in between Barry and Lisa’s likenesses. He looked like a reflection but at the same time looked so much more corporeal than any reflection Barry had ever seen, like there was depth and weight to the mirror image. Of course, Barry wasn’t really sure he could use words like reflection and mirror image when the man in the window wasn’t a copy of anything in the world around them; the space between Barry and Lisa in the real world was unoccupied.

 

“Howzitgaun?” He asked with a nod in their direction.

 

“Groundskeeper Willie, about time you showed up,” Lisa said with an annoyed huff. “I don’t care what beef you have with my brother, I’m not your pawn. You don’t get to make me some damsel in distress. Use the Flash for all I care, but I’ve got better things to do. Take me back to Central. Now.”

 

The man – Mirror Master – considered them both for a moment, head cocked and grinning, then leant forward and peeked out of the window. His arms followed his head and used the glass as leverage to hoist the rest of him out. Barry should be used to this level of weirdness by now, but couldn’t help freaking out a little inside as Mirror Master hopped over some invisible obstacle and out onto the pavement. One moment the man was a reflection, an impossible reflection without a real world equivalent, and the next he was approaching Barry and Lisa at a leisurely gait, entirely three dimensional.

 

“You’re bold as brass, hen. I admire that, I do. Your mistake though, is thinking you have any control here. Naebody leaves the mirror world unless I bring them out of it, and you’re more useful to me here than you are out there right now. I’d make myself comfy if I were you. Knowing your brother, you could be here awhile.”

 

Barry was feeling particularly ignored in this conversation. From the sound of it, Lisa would be more than happy to abandon him here if the Mirror Master agreed. Obviously Lisa wasn’t as attached to him as her brother was. Then again, if it was Leonard here instead of Lisa, would he be any more altruistic? Barry would like to think he would be, but Barry also knew he put far too much trust in people who didn’t deserve it. Knew it far too well. It had come back to bite him in the arse enough times in the recent past.

 

Well, fine then. If no one else particularly cared about him, then he’d watch out for himself. First he’d need information. Why was Mirror Master targeting him? Was he out to make a name for himself? Or just being a dick? Maybe a bit of both. “What are you up to, Mirror Master?”

 

“Threaten me all you want but my brother will never give in to you.”

 

“I’m not threatening anyone. I’m just hammering out a gentleman’s agreement with you all.”

 

And they just continued ignoring him. Time to use his big voice then. “Hey! How did you get us here?”

 

“Kidnapping me wasn’t your brightest idea then.”

 

“Oh? And should I have just waltzed into your safe houses and brokered a deal then? How about the one on Thompson when you were there last Thursday? Or maybe I should have made myself known during the game of poker at Pike Street Tuesday last? Or how about if I just popped up at your brother’s hidey hole on Campbell, eh? People don’t realise how many mirrors surround them. I can see everything. You’d never know I was coming. He never knew I was there until I wanted him to.”

 

Barry felt instantly sick, like something had rotted in the very core of him. This meta seemed to know everything, was keeping tabs on the Rogues by the sound of it, even knew the location of Leonard’s apartment. Could he see through every makeshift mirror? Had he been watching them?

 

Barry remembered back to the nights talking with Leonard. He didn’t think he’d said much about his friends and family, but what if he’d said enough? Enough for Mirror Master to find them, target them. He’d tried to keep them safe but he’d only put them into even more danger by then being pathetic enough to need Leonard Snart to fill their void in his life. How was he supposed to protect them from a man like this? He couldn’t imagine fighting this meta, couldn’t pull his panicking mind together enough to start scratching out a plan that would trap him, depower him. He couldn’t even fathom escaping this mirror dimension he’d been thrown into right now.

 

A wash of fear and helplessness seeped through him. His voice sounded hollow and tiny as he asked, “What do you want?”

 

But Mirror Master continued on, taking no heed of Barry. “No, I don’t think that would have gone down too well.”

 

“No, my brother for one values his privacy.”

 

Barry couldn’t take it anymore. Couldn’t listen to them posturing when he thought of the very real danger this new meta could pose to Iris, to Joe, to Cisco and Caitlin, to his own father. The fear was pumping through his system like poison. Why had he been dragged into this? Mirror Master obviously had issues with Captain Cold, not him. Why else would he be using Lisa as leverage? So then why was Barry here too? Was it just bad luck? Was he making a statement? Look how easily I defeated the Flash! Bow before me!

 

This was so confusing. He just wanted it all to be over. He wanted to go home. He wanted to be home. He wanted to know his friends and family weren’t in danger from this powered up Scot. He wanted…

 

He made a run at Mirror Master, fist raised… and went straight through him.

 

Straight through him and into twisting, convulsing, pulsing.

 

His stomach dropped as the city around him turned upside down.

 

Then everything fell away.

 

***

 

Mirror Master sidled up to Len where he stood slumped next to the van’s battered side. He was brandishing a pocket mirror. Len wondered if this was the real one or if it was just another clever double. If he was a betting man, he’d put his money on the latter.

 

“Look,” said Mirror Master, holding the object out to him. “They’re safe and well for now, but kill me and they’ll be stuck in the mirror dimension forever.”

 

Inside the mirror he saw Lisa and Barry. They seemed to be unharmed, though confused. A bit angry on Lisa’s part. When Len went to reach out and touch its surface though, the mirror was snatched out of his reach. “You’ll not enjoy watching them in every reflective surface you pass for the rest of your life, not being able to touch or talk, I’d wager. ‘Cause that’s what’ll happen if you kill me here.”

 

 “You wouldn’t dare,” snarled Len.

 

“Try it and see,” Mirror Master threatened, circling around Len and leaving a string of reflections in his wake.

 

***

 

“So…”

 

“Yeah.”               

 

The image of Central City had fallen away when Mirror Master disappeared and now all that surrounded Barry and Lisa were thousands upon thousands of mirrors, floating aimlessly through the vast, endless space. Barry rapped his knuckles against the closest one to him. “He’s right, there’s no getting through them.”

 

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way, Flash.” Lisa started moving from one mirror to the next, looking into them and reaching out to touch their surfaces. “I can see all of Central through these mirrors.”

 

“Really?” Barry began to look properly himself. The mirror he’d tapped just before did indeed show the park on Swanston Street. He moved to the next. The precinct. Moving among the mirrors he saw places that were familiar to him, places he’d known all his life, but the further he got away from where he’d started, the more foreign the reflections grew. He recognised the Daily Planet building in Metropolis, the gothic facades of Gotham, the Palmer Tech building in Star City, some swamp in what he could only guess was Louisiana. He ran straight out as far as he could go while still keeping Lisa in his sights. Now he was seeing the world: Paris, Beijing, Rio, Sydney. And still the mirrors continued outwards, an eternity of reflections with no end.

 

Barry flashed back to Lisa’s side. “It goes on forever.”

 

“One of them has to be our way out. If he got us in here and then got back out himself then there has to be a way out. That’s just how things work,” insisted Lisa.

 

“So you think one of these millions of mirrors is actually our exit out of Wonderland?”

 

“Exactly. So get checking, Flash.”

 

***

 

Ten Mirror Masters surrounded Len but as far as he could tell there wasn’t an original in sight.

 

Outnumbered and without a plan, Len hated himself for asking, “What do you want? How do I get my sister back?” He hated how weak and at a disadvantage it showed he was, but did it anyway.

 

“I told you, pal. I only want us to be mates, your sister’s just security. You’re the one who’s being all hostile.”

 

Len fired at one of the clones, just to be spiteful. There was something satisfying in putting a beam of ice through that smug smile.

 

“My case in point.” The Mirror Masters gestured to the place their clone had just been. “Y’see, I’ve done my time in wet works but then those tossers wanted me to take out a woman and her weans in San Diego. That’s when I decided it was time to get rid of the bloody lot of them and move on. I like what you’re doing here though, it’s pure dead brilliant.”

 

Len shot another one of them and the remaining smirks turned into frowns.

 

“I see you’ve got trust issues, but now you’re just being childish.”

 

One more down. It was like shooting ducks at the fairground.  “I could do this all day.”

 

Mirror Master huffed out a resigned sigh. “Away with you then. Give us a call when you’re ready to talk like adults, eh?”

 

Len didn’t answer, just glared. He kept shooting the reflections one by one until only a single Mirror Master remained, his arms crossed and a disproving look on his face. Len didn’t back down from the challenge, didn’t apologise, didn’t dignify it with a response.

 

Eventually the Mirror Master ended the standoff, rummaging through the insides of his coat to retrieve the pocket mirror he’d shown Len before. He tossed it towards Len, his aim just off enough that Len had to scramble to catch and keep hold of it. Len wondered if that had been deliberate. Most likely.

 

“I’ll see you about, eh? In the meantime, you reflect on what I told you.”

 

A flurry of fire from Mick’s heat gun engulfed the final Mirror Master.

 

***

 

Barry had spent the last hour running from one mirror to the next, checking to see if any gave way when touched but two things had hindered his search: not wanting to leave Lisa alone out-of-sight for too long and the fact that the mirrors seemed to be constantly moving. There was no proper way to know that the mirror he’d just looked in wasn’t the one he’d looked in half an hour ago.

 

Now he was just sitting down next to Lisa, both of them leaning against a particularly wide mirror, resting. The familiar pangs of hunger had started to gnaw at his gut. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast and had no food on him. Between that and spending the day dodging fire and ice, he was running low on fuel. He had to conserve his strength as much as he could until they escaped or were rescued; he didn’t want to crash here. He’d be no good to anyone if that happened. Not that he was making much of a difference right now.

 

Barry looked around them, at the vast expanse populated only by mirrors and imagined how hellish the wait for Len to rescue his sister (and hopefully himself) was going to be. He only knew one way to get through this.

 

“I spy with my little eye-”

 

“Don’t you dare.”

 

Chapter Text

“Your brother’s a real tosser.”

 

Barry had grabbed Lisa and run them a good 5 metres away before Mirror Master was even finished talking. Lisa flailed momentarily, caught off balance from the quick trip. “Give a girl some warning next time,” she berated as she pushed a mass of windswept curls from her face.

 

Mirror Master lounged against one of the mirrors, a can in his hand.

 

“Are you drinking beer?” Barry asked in disbelief.

 

Mirror Master just shrugged. “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”

 

“But you’re supposed to be fighting us! We’re enemies.”

 

“And that’s why I dinnae bring a bevvy for you, pal. I’m not stupid. ‘Sides, we’re at something of a standstill at the moment. He might have a reputation for having a cool head but the lass’s balmy brother’s spoiling for a fight I have no intention of giving him.”

 

“Then why did you do all this?” Barry asked, gesturing around him. “You kidnapped his sister, what else did you expect to happen?”

 

“You yanks, you’re always overreacting. I never meant you no harm, you’re just here as my security. I hear the stories about Captain Cold, about what’s he done, what he can do. I wasn’t taking any chances.”

 

“What are you even talking about?” Lisa crossed her arms and glared, as if challenging him to argue with her. “Lenny isn’t some big bad. Why’re you making it sound like you need to be protected from him and not the other way around? You attacked us.”

 

“Aye, I did. But that’s the truth of the matter, hen. Your brother’s got a body count. The underworld talks, and I listen. I don’t feature going out for fuck all like Jake Simmons.” Jake Simmons – Cisco had named him Deathbolt. He was one of the metahumans they’d tried to transport to Lian Yu. Tried being the operative word. Barry still felt a stab of fear thinking about how close he’d been to dead until Leonard had blasted Simmons in the face with his gun.

 

“And that’s not all. He’s building an army of metahumans, isn’t that right? I see him on the telly, and each time he’s added another freak to his collection. Not that I blame him, mind. Wish I’d thought of it first. But I don’t plan to be on the wrong side of that fight. That’s why I’m here now. I’m trying to make friendly.”

 

Lisa muttered, “Could have fooled me,” but Barry could see that Mirror Master did have a point. Barry had an insider’s view of all the events that had transpired since he’d become the Flash, but from the outside it could look a lot more sinister. Simmons was only the most recent co-conspirator that Leonard had killed for his own self-interest, not to mention the civilian casualties before he and Barry had struck their deal. It did look like he was building an army too; certain media outlets had definitely put that spin on the Rogues in their coverage. No doubt that was a targeted fear mongering campaign to sell more copies, but still… If he hadn’t always had Iris in his corner, the newspapers might have painted him as a malevolent force as well.

 

“I understand where you’re coming from, Mirror Master, but this can’t go on.”

 

“Aye, you’re right about that, pal. I’ll make Captain Cold and his merry band of misfits see my side of things whether they like it or not. I’m going to finish this. The next time you see me this’ll all be sorted.”

 

Mirror Master chugged the last of his beer then piffed the can at a nearby mirror. Barry had expected it to bounce back, the mirror as unpassable as when he’d pushed his hands against it, but the can went straight through. Barry flashed over as fast as he could to follow it but crashed smack bang into the hard, reflective surface.

 

By the time he’d picked himself up again and looked back, Mirror Master was gone.

 

***

 

“Cover them all! Get rid of all the mirrors!”

 

The Rogues swept through the door to their nearest safe house. They went from room to room hanging blankets and sheets on the windows and chucking anything with a reflective surface out the front door. Those who had goggles left them by the doorway as they entered and Piper’s shiny silver pipe was soon grudgingly added to the pile as well.

 

Light bulbs were removed and a stash of candles dug out from underneath the sink. Mick got the job of lighting them all up and placing them around the rooms, a task he took great pleasure in. More than once, a roar of “Mick!” was heard throughout the rooms as Len chided him for his over-enthusiasm when candlelight grew so bright and intense it threatened to become full on house fire.

 

There was only one reflection left in the house once they were done: the pocket mirror Mirror Master had given to Len showing Lisa and Barry. He said a silent apology to them both as he snapped it shut after one last look – they were sitting side by side, talking - and dropped it into his pocket. Mirror Master wouldn’t get a foothold into the Rogue’s hideout. The only way he’d be able to spy on them now was to come in himself through the front door. Sure in their privacy, the Rogues began to plan.

 

Mirror Master wouldn’t catch them unawares a second time.

 

***

 

Cisco hung himself over the partition of Joe’s desk. The detective cocked one eyebrow up at the distraction but keep filling out whatever paperwork he was currently working on. Not long after the singularity above Central City, Captain Singh had caved into Joe and let him form the Anti-Meta-Human Taskforce. With Cisco kind of out of a job with the sudden disappearance of “Dr Wells”, he was the obvious choice to be the taskforce’s scientific advisor.

 

Cisco thought it was cool that his role fighting crime in Central City was now public knowledge – at least to anyone who cared enough to find out who was on the Taskforce – rather than covert like the past year at STAR Labs.

 

He was also getting a kick out of being Joe’s partner. The two of them had mad rapport. It also put him in the position to be able to keep an eye on the detective. Although not many people would know from the way he’d kept chugging along at work, he hadn’t been coping so well with the Barry situation. Cisco had made it his duty to at least make sure the man was fed and watered every day even if he was throwing himself into work with abandon. It was Cisco’s way of showing he cared.

 

“Hey, Joe, I’m gonna go get lunch. I know this awesome little burger place not too far away, puts Big Belly Burger to shame. You want in on that?”

 

“It puts Big Belly Burger to shame? You know what, that does sound good. And to be honest, this case is doing my head in, I could use a break. Buuuut unfortunately I’m stuck here for the foreseeable future.”

 

“Oh man, that sucks. Are you still working that locked room mystery? Have you considered the possibility of an escaped orangutan?”

 

“Ha ha. Very funny, Edgar Allan Poe.”

 

“Hey, we’re talking Central City here, we already have a psychic gorilla. A rogue orangutan would be a pretty normal day for us.”

 

“Speaking of, how’d you go finding the rest of the Rogues?”

 

“By the time I got a hit on their location, the robbery was over and they were en route to join up with the rest of the group. Which is where Barry is, so he’ll sort them out.”

 

“Have you heard from him at all?”

 

“No, nothing.”

 

Joe sighed. “Me neither. I keep trying to corner him around the precinct but I’ve got no hope if he doesn’t want to see me. I never thought I’d hate these abilities he has so much.”

 

“Yeah, pretty hard to catch a speedster when he doesn’t want to be found.”

 

They lapsed into silence.

 

“Well then…” Cisco rubbed his hands together and then clapped. “I’m off, I’ll bring you back something.”

 

“That’s why you’re my favourite. But you’re still not getting a badge.”

 

***

 

Barry and Lisa were once again sitting side by side up against a mirror. Mirror Master hadn’t reappeared and nothing in the landscape around them had changed. They were just in a kind of limbo, waiting. Both of them had resigned themselves to that. Barry hadn’t tried to start up any more travel games and Lisa hadn’t had to strangle him in turn.

 

It was a little awkward though, Barry mused. Most of what Barry knew about Lisa he’d learnt from her criminal record. He had no idea what he could chat to her about, besides the weather. Still, just having her there in this mess with him was a comfort. He couldn’t imagine waiting this out alone. Hell, if Lisa hadn’t been thrown into the mirror world after him, who could he have relied on to come save him? None of his friends or family would have known where he’d gone. Leonard would have, but would he have cared enough to do anything about it? Barry liked to think he would, but at the same time he doubted it. So thank god for Lisa.

 

It was the overwhelming nature of that sentiment that led him to say, apropos of nothing, “I’m glad you’re here.”

 

She gave him a pitying smile. “Aw, Flash, that’s nice and all but we’re not going to die. You don’t need to get all emotional. You heard the man, we’re just leverage. Lenny’ll sort him out.”

 

Barry wrapped his arms around his legs and pulled them in closer against his chest. “I’m not, I’m just saying… it’s good not to be going through this alone.”

 

Lisa gave him a curious look then shifted to lean against him, her head resting on his shoulder.

 

“Yeah.”

 

***

 

 

The black hood was whipped from Cisco’s head to reveal Captain Cold kneeling in front of the chair he was tied to. His patented I’m a massive a-hole and don’t I know it smirk was plastered all over his face like always. “Hello again, Cisco.”

 

“Oh come on, guys! Give me a break. This is getting ridiculous! I’m not building you any more guns!”

 

Cisco struggled against his bonds but it didn’t do any good. He remembered leaving the precinct and heading off in the direction of Beelze Burger. He’d had to wait while the Abbot and Costello duo on the registers bumbled their way through his order but the smell of the food they eventually handed over made it completely worth it. He’d decided to take a shortcut through an alley between two office buildings so that it’d all still be hot by the time he made it back to the bull pen but then there’d been a sharp pain to the back of his head and that’s all he remembered.

 

Now he was here. The room they were in was way dark, the only light coming from a couple of candles. As his eyes adjusted more, Cisco finally picked out Heatwave standing menacingly in a corner. He just know that if Cold was around, Heatwave couldn’t be far away. The big lug had shucked his fireman’s jacket – Cisco had always guessed that it was stolen – and the candlelight was moulding shadows into the pits of the scars covering his shoulders and arms. The sight of it reminded Cisco of Freddy Kruger’s face. Very comforting

 

If Captain Cold’s plan was scaring Cisco enough to give in to any demands the Rogues had, he was on the right track. This whole situation with the candlelight and the scars and the muscles was giving him the heebie-jeebies. It felt like one step away from Stealers Wheel, bad dancing and dismembered ears. Or Goodbye Horses, lotion and buckets but he wasn’t going to let his mind go off in that direction. He was mostly sure Captain Cold wasn’t interested in a Cisco skin suit. Like 95% sure.

 

“Unfortunately, we have a bigger problem on our hands today. My sister is in trouble. The Flash as well.” The latter name was accompanied by a dismissive wave of his hand.

 

“Lisa? What trouble have you lead her into this time?” Snart’s expression hardened from practised indifference to real anger and Cisco wasn’t ashamed to say he peed himself a little. Okay, no questioning Captain Cold’s love for his sister. He could remember that. Just avoid poking that bear if he valued his life. “Moving along… So why am I here? Surely you can get Lisa back yourself?”

 

“There’s someone new in town who presents a… unique challenge that’s proving a little above our abilities, as loath as I am to admit it. Considering our mutual interest in seeing this threat neutralised, I thought you’d be willing to lend a hand.”

 

“We don’t need outside help, especially not his. On n'est jamais servi si bien que par soi-même.” Cisco could have leapt a foot into the air if he wasn’t tied so firmly to this chair. He’d thought it was just himself, Captain Cold and Heatwave in the room. Apparently Hartley had come to gloat too though. Which made him wonder who else could be lurking behind him.

 

“Hart, how many times do I have to tell you? We’re all very impressed by your language skills but no one understands a word of it. And I say we do need him, so that’s the last I’ll hear about it from you.”

 

Cisco could just sense Hartley silently fuming behind him. It was the competitive push he needed to declare, “Okay, untie me and let’s hear the whole story.”

 

***

 

“You!”

 

“Me?”

 

They’d been in the mirror world for hours (or had it been days already? It was hard to tell here) and Barry had gotten sick of wearing the cowl. He figured taking it off wouldn’t be such a big deal. He was almost certain Leonard had told Lisa his identity anyway despite his insistence that he hadn’t. So there was no difference in keeping his mask on or taking it off. And even if he hadn’t told her, the only time they’d met face to face was that one time at the bar with Cisco. No way would she remember him. He’d just been an obstacle in the way of her real goal. She’d see his face now and not be able to tie it to a name or an identity. Nothing bad could come of this.

 

Or so he’d thought.

 

“You!”

 

Barry just spread his hands questioningly.

 

“I know you!”

 

Oh shit. So obviously if she was reacting like this, Leonard hadn’t told her. But if she recognised him then she did remember him from the bar.

 

“You slept with my brother!”

 

“No!” That wasn’t what he’d expected. “What!?”

 

“I saw you! In his bed! Oh my god, my brother’s sleeping with the Flash.”

 

“No! He’s not! We’re not! What do you mean you saw me!?”

 

“On Christmas. I came to see Lenny but he was still in bed. With you.” A perfectly manicured finger was thrust into his chest. “Because you slept together. I can’t believe he had the nerve to tease me about Cisco when he was screwing the Flash the whole time!”

 

“We’re not screwing!”

 

“Oh?” Lisa’s lips curled up in a wicked grin. “Then what are your intentions with my brother, Flash?”

 

Barry rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair.

 

“I suppose you might as well call me by my real name if we’re going to be stuck here as long as Mirror Master says.” He held out his right hand and looked her straight in the face, aiming for confidence but probably falling far short. “I’m Barry Allen. I’m a forensic scientist at the CCPD.”

 

Instead of taking his hand, Lisa collapsed against him laughing.

 

“You’re a badge!? I thought you were a prostitute!”

 

***

 

“So you’re saying they both went through the glass?”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“So we’re talking Alice in Wonderland type stuff?”

 

“Precisely. Except instead of mad hatters and talking flowers, we’ve got a Scot who doesn’t know what he’s got coming and kidnapping.”

 

“And he calls himself Mirror Master and says he’s put them in the mirror world?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Cool names. But also super creepy. Like Twilight Zone creepy. Do you think he watches us?”

 

“I have no doubt of it.”

 

Cisco’s eyes widened. “Oh my god. I just solved Joe’s case. Mirror Master is the orangutan.”

 

Mick shot a look at Len. “Is this kid right in the head?”

 

At the same time as Hartley taunted in the negative, Len replied, “that, I can’t say. But he is going to help us, aren’t you?”

 

“Well, yeah. I mean, we’re talking about Lisa and Bar… ely anyone hates the Flash, right?”

 

Len smirked at him. “Smooth.”

 

“Shut up, Cold. I still haven’t forgiven you for hurting my brother. Do you want me to help you out or not?”

 

“My apologies.”

 

“Okay, is there anything else he said, anything that could help us find out who he is?”

 

“He mentioned being in wet works, said something about a job in San Diego he refused to take. Involved a woman and her kids. By the sounds of it he offed his employers instead. Might show up in a search.”

 

“Okay, that’s good. Get me a computer and I’ll see what I can find.”

 

 

***

 

“Barry! Hey!”

 

Barry awoke with a start. He must have dozed off at some point. He’d lost count of how much time they’d spent in the mirror world. The lighting here was the same all the time; there was no night or day. There was also no time keeping device in the Flash suit and when he’d asked Lisa if she had a watch, she’d looked at him like he was an idiot and said, “With this outfit? Anyway, that’s what Lenny’s for.”

 

In his half-awake state all he could manage was a “Wha?”

 

Good going, Barry.

 

She shook him fully awake. “If everything reflected is shown in these mirrors, then you should be able to find my brother. Maybe we can communicate with him somehow.”

 

Barry pushed himself up off the ground and started stretching the stiffness from his limbs. “You’re right. He’ll be looking for a way to get you out. Even if we can’t communicate with him, we might be able to get some ideas ourselves from whatever the Rogues are up to.”

 

“Find wherever they are and then come back and get me.”

 

“Yeah, okay. This shouldn’t take long. I’ll be right back.”

 

He got a watery smile and then he was off, zipping between mirrors as fast as he could, scanning the whole of Central City. He frowned as images of the city petered out and he still hadn’t found Leonard. But it wouldn’t be unusual if he’d retreated across the river back into Keystone City. His apartment was there after all, it stood to reason that the Rogues had at least one hideout in the area as well.

 

So he kept going. But when all the reflections around him were of country towns obviously far away from the city he’d grown up in, something ugly and heavy started forming in the pit of his stomach.

 

Maybe he’d overlooked Leonard between reflections. Barry would bet him and the other Rogues would be on the move so maybe they’d just missed each other. He went by every mirror again, thousands of them and still nothing.

 

One last time then, slower.

 

But no amount of wishing brought Leonard or any of the other Rogues who’d been part of the heist into his view.

 

He skidded to a stop beside Lisa. “He’s not anywhere.”

 

“He has to be!” she insisted.

 

“I’ve checked all the mirrors in Central and Keystone, he’s not there. I can’t find any of the Rogues.” Fear gnawed in his belly but he had to put on a brave face for Lisa. He might have gotten close with Leonard in the last few months but Lisa was his sister, he’d protected her his whole life. Barry could tamp down his own panic for her. “Would he leave town?”

 

“No, there’d be no point. Besides, he wouldn’t leave me.”

 

“It’s gonna be okay, Lisa.”

 

“But what if it’s not? He’s all I’ve got, Barry. I can’t lose him.” She was breathing quicker, tears gathering in her eyes, a tinge of hysteria to her voice.

 

He did the only thing he could think of. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. In turn she clawed at him like he would dare try to escape and buried her face into his shoulder.

 

“It’s going to be okay,” he murmured into the crown of her head. He rubbed slow circles across her back. “Breathe with me, okay? Just in and out. In and out.”

 

He exaggerated his own breaths and soon their lungs were working in tandem. It was Lisa who eventually pulled away, quickly swiping her sleeve across her eyes with her back turned to him.

 

One deep breath and then she began, “If something has happened to the boys then it’s our job to get ourselves out of here and rescue them instead. Are you with me?”

 

After what he’d seen – or not seen, as the case was – Barry knew he had to prepare for the worst. Captain Cold and the Rogues could be dead already. At best Mirror Master had them captured and hidden away somewhere like where Lisa and Barry were now. Rescue probably wasn’t on its way, in which case their escape depended solely on Lisa and his own efforts. Barry didn’t hesitate.

 

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, I think I’ve got something,” Cisco announced.

 

“You think you have something, or you actually have something?” Hartley groused.

 

Len sighed. The two scientists had been at it nonstop since Cisco had been released from his bonds. It was a miracle it hadn’t come to physical blows yet.

 

It was even more of a miracle that Mick hadn’t got sick of them both and knocked their heads together. He almost wished he would, then maybe the two of them would join forces to team up against Mick and the constant bitching at each other would stop. “Hartley, don’t be pedantic. Cisco, what have you found?”

 

“Well, see this?” He backed away from the screen so Len could come closer. “It’s a police report from San Diego. I’d put money on this being the job he was talking about. A handful of corporate bigwigs end up dead in bizarre “accidents” and this other John Doe is just butchered.” Hartley glanced briefly at the photo evidence Cisco had pulled up onto the screen and screwed up his face in disgust.

 

“But, check out this other report I found. A home invasion at a private property just a couple of weeks earlier. Owners of the house are a Mr and Mrs Baker and their two kids. Mr Baker is a big time animal rights activists. His account of the crime sounds totally whack – if you don’t deal with what we deal with on a regular basis, that is. He said the guy that attacked them entered the house through a mirror. Police thought he must have been drunk or high, but that sounds like our guy, right?”

 

“That does seems to fit the profile. Is there a name?”

 

“You bet. Evan McCulloch. Scottish expat. Mercenary and thief. He’s got a rap sheet as long as my arm at ARGUS but very little on the actual police database. Which just tells you the kind of pies he’s got his fingers in.”

 

Len cocked his head in an exaggerated show of thought. “Mirror manipulation seems like an unfair advantage in any line of work.”

 

Cisco nodded in agreement. “I’ll give you that.”

 

“Ten to one says that’s the guy I heard about a couple of weeks ago,” Mick piped up from where he was seated with Mardon in the corner doing god knows what. “No wonder no one knew what he did.”

 

“I’d say you’re right. Which means he’s pulled jobs in town. Which means there are people out there who have seen him, who might even know him. He can’t hide from us forever.” Len lay a hand on Cisco’s shoulder. “Good work, kid. Now I want you and Hartley working on a way to get them out of there.”

 

Cisco spluttered. “What makes you think I’d do you any more favours?”

 

“Because you’re one of the good guys. It’s just what your kind of people do. Mick! Mardon!” The two men looked up from their hushed conversation. “Where’s Trickster?”

 

“The little prick buggered off not long after we got back here,” Mardon answered with more than a touch of disdain in his voice. Len didn’t feel all that surprised with this particular turn of events. Trickster had only been with them a little while before this all blew up and he was the youngest of the lot; Len couldn’t entirely blame him for looking after his own interests first.

 

“Fine. Forget about him then. I want you two out on the streets. Find out all you can about this McCulloch fellow.”

 

“On it, boss.”

 

***

 

There came a tugging on the hip of Barry’s suit as he sat, racking his brain for an escape plan. “Empty them.”

 

Barry looked from Lisa’s hold on his suit up to her face. “Empty what?”

 

“Your pockets. Let’s get an inventory going.”

 

“You think I can fit anything into this outfit?” Barry asked, pulling at the tri-polymer fabric covering his chest to show how tight it was. “I can’t even bring my mobile with me when I go out.”

 

“Fine, I’ll start then.” She shuffled around until she was sitting cross-legged opposite Barry and started pulling items from her person and placing them in the space between them. “Gold Gun, normal gun, lock pick, pepper spray, switchblade, taser, a couple of diamonds, a few gold rings, lipstick, hair ties, keys and a platinum card.” The last was produced with a flourish from her bra.

 

“How do you fit all that on you?” Barry asked in astonishment, taking in her skin-tight outfit. Her hands hadn’t strayed into the actual pockets on her jacket even once.

 

“That’s for me to know and you to find out.” She gave him a wink. “But only if you behave. Now, what do you have to bring to the table?”

 

“Like I said, I’ve just got the suit.”

 

“Then what about abilities? What can you do? Besides run really fast, obviously.”

 

“I can run on water… which isn’t useful at all in this situation. Um, with enough space I can do a supersonic punch? I can speed read, I’ve travelled through time but that’s a bit hit and miss, I can phase through things by vibrating at a specific frequency, I can –”

 

“Hold up! You can vibrate?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Like just your whole body or can you get specific?”

 

“I can get pretty specific. Like I use it on my vocal chords when I want to disguise my voice.” And he did just that to say, “Hi, I’m the Flash.” Lisa looked impressed. “Why do you ask?”

 

“Think about the possibilities!”

 

“Well, yeah, I have. I can do the voice thing, I can open locks… It’s all pretty cool.”

 

“No,” Lisa gave him a look, “think about the possibilities.” She raised her eyebrows suggestively as she drew out the word.

 

“What? No! Lisa! No!”

 

“You can’t tell me you haven’t considered it.”

 

“I haven’t! I can’t believe I tell you I can travel through time and you’re hung up on how I could be someone’s personal vibrator during sex.”

 

“Hey, you said it, not me. I mean, what other practical uses could there be for a skill like that?”

 

A grin split Barry’s face at this invitation to geek out. “You have no idea. Okay, so everything in the universe has its own vibrational frequency, right? So, like, you’ve probably seen videos of glass breaking when a certain pitch is played, yeah? That’s because the sound is matching the frequency of the glass and the glass amplifies the wave and then SMASH! Hartley’s gloves do the same kind of thing. But with phasing, I match the vibrational frequency of air. So rather than a sympathetic response like the smashing glass, I can move safely between the solid particles of whatever I’m phasing through and come out the other side whole.

 

“The theoretical possibilities are limitless. Like, if the concept of the multiverse is correct and there’s all these other earths occupying the same space as us but remaining invisible to each other because they’re vibrating at different frequencies, then I could theoretically travel between them. I could travel between dimensions! How cool is that!?”

 

Lisa straightened up. “So let me get this straight. You could travel between different dimensions - different worlds - by vibrating at the right frequency?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Lisa looked at him like he was an idiot. “Then vibrate us the hell out of this messed up wonderland.”

 

Barry was just about to tell her how ridiculous that was but then he paused. He mulled it over in his head, considered the idea fully. In theory it made sense, but the real question was did he have the skill to pull it off? It felt like he’d always had Wells’ voice in his ear any time he discovered a new facet of his power, urging him on. Leading him, Barry now realised, like a lamb to the slaughter.

 

Was travelling between different worlds something he could do? The thought blew his mind. If it was possible then logically it would be an extension of his phasing powers. He hadn’t had a great deal of practice with those, but they had all the time in the world here to get it right. He just needed to figure out the right vibrational frequency to get them out of the mirror world and back into theirs.

 

“You’re right. I should be able to do it. I don’t know if I can though.”

 

Lisa pulled him into a hug. Barry had only a moment to wonder at how good Snarts seemed to be at sensing when he was in need of physical affirmation before Lisa was whispering in his ear, “of course you can! You’re the Flash.”

 

And like her brother, she was right. If anyone could do this, it was him. He had to give it a try. “Okay. I’ll have to go pretty far out to get up the speed I’ll need but I won’t leave you here. I’ll come back.” He took a few steadying breaths and then said, mostly to himself, “Here goes nothing.”

 

Then the lightning came to him and he was off.

 

***

 

Len drummed his fingers on the table, a small release of the nervous tension filling his body. He’d closed himself away in his own room, a single candle in the corner the only light pushing back the darkness.

 

It had been over 24 hours since Barry and Lisa had disappeared into the mirror world and they were still no closer to formalising a plan to get them out of there. Cisco and Hartley were currently putting their heads together and Mick and Mardon had gone out to try and get some more information on this McCulloch character. Len was kicking himself for not following up on the rumours Mick had heard sooner. He’d let himself be distracted. Someone out there must know more about Mirror Master and his powers, and he trusted Mick to find that person and get the information they needed.

 

The mirror McCulloch had given him was a heavy weight where it nestled hidden in his pocket. He ached to pull it out and take a look, just to make sure the two of them were okay. He knew that was foolish though, and there was a part of him that dreaded what he might find if he looked. Maybe McCulloch wouldn’t honour his promises. Maybe he’d already hurt them.

 

He contented himself with sliding a hand into his pocket, running his fingers along the circumference of the mirror, feeling out the small dents in its cover, pulling it slightly open – not enough to let any light in, not that the soft candlelight could reach the depths of his pocket to begin with – then snapping it shut again.

 

A wave of futility washed over him. He wasn’t smart enough in the right ways to help with what Hartley and Cisco were currently doing and he knew he wasn’t level-headed enough at the moment to go out interrogating people with Mick and Mardon. He’d probably end up hurting someone, maybe do something worse, probably end up breaking his promise to Barry to not kill. And then Barry would be mad with him when he got out of the mirror world.

 

If he ever got out of the mirror world.

 

He’d love to have someone to hit right now. Someone or something to unleash all this emotion on. But all he could do was sit in this room and wait and try not to let the helplessness get to him too much.

 

He couldn’t lose Lisa. Not like this. She was the only family he had left.

 

Oh, sure. The Rogues were becoming closer and closer and he could picture them being something of a surrogate family given enough time, but they weren’t blood. He hadn’t raised them, hadn’t protected them for decades. The connection wasn’t there yet. That was made obvious enough by Trickster’s desertion.

 

Even losing Barry would be a blow. Despite himself, he’d grown fond of the boy since their little arrangement began. Barry might need companionship like he needed food and water, but Len had come to find that he wanted it. It had been… nice having someone around.

 

Christ, he could use a drink.

 

Instead he pulled the mirror out of his pocket. He knew he shouldn’t give in to temptation and look. If he allowed himself that once, he’d spend however long it took to get them back staring at the mirror every other minute. It was a risk too; if he looked into the mirror, McCulloch could look back out at him. But hell, there was nothing of benefit he could see in Len’s room. It was as Spartan as his apartment.

 

Fuck it, Len finally decided. He opened the mirror to find Lisa with her arms around Barry, hugging him. Then Barry was gone, too fast for the naked eye to see except for the lightning trail he left behind. Len wondered what they were up to. At least now he knew they were safe though.

 

Suddenly there was a rapping on his door.

 

He barely had time to hide the mirror behind his back before Hartley was poking his head through the door. “Boss, we think we’ve got something.”

 

Half to keep up his cool façade and half to be the bastard he was, Len asked with a smirk, “You think you have something, or you actually have something?”

 

He snapped the mirror shut behind him as Hartley muttered curses in a language he would never understand and left the room.

 

The mirror was slipped back into his pocket as he picked himself up from his seat at the desk and after allowing himself a few moments to pull himself together, he trailed after Hartley.

 

***

 

Barry had barely been gone a minute when Lisa sensed a change around her.

 

The mirrors had been broadcasting normal, boring, everyday life since they’d been here – fun to watch for a bit, especially if you could find one that was particularly scandalous, but they got monotonous pretty quickly – but this felt different. She spun around, trying to find the source of the feeling.

 

And there it was. For all of a second there was a small round mirror where one hadn’t been before and reflected in its surface was her brother’s face, looking worry-ragged. He was there for only a second before the mirror face swung to black and after a few moments of hoping to see Lenny’s face again, the mirror just blinked out of existence.

 

“Flash! Barry!” She called. “I saw him! He’s okay!”

 

But the Scarlet Speedster was too far away to hear.

 

***

 

“What have you got?”

 

Cisco and Hartley looked up from a tangle of wires coming out of some kind of device that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere since he’d last been in this room. Circular was the only word Len had to describe it, because he had no idea what it was besides that. Metallic, covered in wires. Looking as makeshift as only something complex banged together out of scraps in a couple of hours could.

 

The scientists shared a look before Hartley gave in and motioned for Cisco to start explaining. “So this all works on anti-tachyon technology. Tachyons are particles that are always moving faster than light, and anti-tachyons are –”

 

Len cut in before the boy scientist could waste any more time rambling. “I don’t care about the science. Will it work?”

 

Hartley picked up the explanation. “In theory? Yes. But without some kind of link to the mirror world, we have no idea what frequency we’ll need to use to reach it. We need a mirror that McCulloch’s currently using to lock onto that frequency. But the chances of us finding him, let alone getting him to go through one of his mirrors slowly enough that we could get a reading off it are slim to none.”

 

Len’s fingers itched to find their way inside his pocket. “So you can’t just use any mirror? You have to have a mirror that’s connected to the mirror world at that point in time?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Len smiled at the irony that the item McCulloch had given him to make him despair was the one thing that could guarantee their success. “It’s your lucky days, boys, I think I might have just the thing.”

 

Hartley grinned. “You think you have it, or you actually have it?”

 

“Shut up.” Plucky little shit.

 

He dug the mirror out of his pocket, held it out where he could just look at it for a moment. It felt wrong handing it over to someone else, felt like he was admitting his own inadequacy, his own failure. But this was necessary. Logically he knew he could trust Hartley and Cisco to do this for him. They were as willing as he was to do whatever it took to get Lisa and Barry back. One last squeeze of the pocket mirror and then he handed it to Hartley.

 

“This mirror lets you see into the mirror world. Use it to find the frequency.”

 

***

 

“Damn it!” Barry punched a mirror as he made his way back to Lisa. It shattered under his fist but didn’t really help to better his mood. This was so frustrating. He just wanted out of this horrible place. It was starting to feel like some kind of bizarre and cruel torture being in this infinite room full of mirrors for so long. Once again he thanked whoever was listening that he wasn’t here alone. As much as it sucked for Lisa as well, at least she provided him with the incentive to get up and fight against this. He was going to get her out of here and avenge her brother.

 

He dreaded to think about it, but if she hadn’t been in here with him, he might’ve just given up. It’s not like he had much of a life to go back to at the moment. They’d probably be better off without him. Leonard would probably still be alive if it wasn’t for him. He could finally just disappear. Be gone without having to make that final decision himself. He could rest.

 

But he couldn’t let himself think like that.

 

“It’s no good,” Barry said, staring at the floor in defeat, his voice steeped in frustration.

 

Lisa’s voice cut through his self-pity. “I saw my brother. I saw Lenny.”

 

Barry’s face shot up. “What?”

 

“He’s alive. I saw him in a mirror.”

 

A wave of relief washed over Barry and his legs turned weak. He hadn’t realised how heavily the thought of Leonard’s death had weighed on him until that moment. He’d thought it was going to be just another one of the many deaths that he was burdened with, knowing they were his fault.

 

His desire to escape was renewed. But that still didn’t change the fact that he didn’t know how to get them out of here. No, that was a lie. He did know how to get them out of here, he just couldn’t do it. “I can’t focus. I need a conduit, something to channel my energy through.” He clenched his fists.

 

“Well you’d better figure it out soon. We’ve got company.” Her eyes were looking past him, widened in horror. He slowly turned, dreading what he’d find.

 

The shards of the mirror he’d smashed were forming up, coming together in a vaguely humanoid shape, a whirling dervish clothed in mirror ball.

 

“That’s not good.”

 

He grabbed Lisa and ran.

 

***

 

“It’s ready!” Cisco announced excitedly.

 

The pocket mirror had been hooked up to wires and hung suspended on the other side of the room from Cisco and Hartley’s invention. Len didn’t understand how this was all supposed to work but he trusted that the scientists did and that was enough for him.

 

“Turn it on,” he ordered.

 

Hartley did just that without another word. The machine hummed for a second and Len started to fear that this all amounted to nothing but then a halo of light shot out from the circular, anti-tachyon whatever it was and concentrated on the pocket mirror, finally stabilising to create a dome.

 

“Now what happens?” He asked the scientists.

 

Cisco shrugged and Hartley answered, “We wait.”

 

***

 

Barry – and Lisa by default – had been dodging the mirror monster as best he could but the thing was fast. More than once Barry had crashed into other mirrors trying to evade it and they’d formed up and turned against him too. His suit was now shredded in places and his legs were burning with a build-up of lactic acid that he wasn’t used to, threatening to slow him down. He was so tired. He needed to rest. He needed food.

 

But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

 

He couldn’t do this forever, but he’d protect Lisa until his dying breath. Death seemed to be becoming a more and more likely outcome of this scenario the longer it went on. He’d tried phasing several times during their chase but it just wasn’t happening. If he thought he’d had trouble concentrating the first time, it was nothing compared to trying to phase with several mirror monsters gnashing at his heels.

 

“I’m sorry, Lisa,” He said, loud enough that she would hear him over the rushing of the air as they raced along.

 

“Don’t you dare, Barry,” she punched him on the arm, “we’re not dead yet and we’re not gonna be.”

 

He wished he had her confidence. But his vision was starting to blur at the edges and he could feel himself slowing, even if she couldn’t. He was reaching his limit.

 

Death by mirror ball wasn’t how he’d wanted to go. It was pretty embarrassing, really. He’d never get all the things he wanted in life. He’d never get to see Joe and Iris again. He’d never get to say sorry to Cisco and Caitlin. He’d never know what was happening between Leonard and himself.

 

He was shaken from his thoughts by Lisa shouting his name. She was pointing at something and in his less than alert state he spent several seconds just staring at her pointing finger before realising he needed to look ahead to where that finger was aimed.

 

He couldn’t believe his eyes. A beam of light was shooting out of a mirror in the near distance, like a beacon calling to them. He would have chalked it up to an exhausted hallucination if Lisa hadn’t spotted it first.

 

“You wanted a conduit? I think you got one.”

 

Lisa’s hold around his neck tightened and he caught a glimpse of her feral smile out of the corner of his eye.

 

“Run, Barry. Run!” echoed in his ear as he shot off in the direction of the beam of light.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cisco stood with Hartley and Snart, waiting with bated breath while the beams of light from the device they’d constructed illuminated the otherwise dark room. This had been his first time building something like this, but the theory behind it was solid. He was sure of that because Hartley had deigned to pitch in with his own expertise occasionally – mostly in the form of obnoxiously telling him when he’d messed something up. It had been like being back in pre-particle explosion STAR Labs all over again. The nostalgia was overpowering. Not.

 

Minutes passed though and nothing happened. They all remained where they were, waiting.

 

But then it was like five minutes and if Cisco knew his boy Barry at all, he knew that he couldn’t be on time to save his life. Cisco went over to the laptop the Rogues had given him to work off of and started back up on his Mirror Master research. No point waiting and worrying; Barry would be fine (he had to be fine) and he’d come in his own time.

 

This didn’t seem to be a sentiment shared by Snart though. After a bit of barely noticeable facial and manual ticks at Cisco’s casualness, he grabbed the laptop out of his hands and got as up in Cisco’s face as a man with a very wide conception of personal space could.

 

 “Why isn’t it working?” he demanded.

 

Cisco should have known Snart wouldn’t be able to keep a cool head when it came to his sister; he was getting more fired up than Rory (Cisco would not apologise for indulging in punnery in his own mind). He held up his hands in defence. “Whoa! Hold up! He’ll come when he comes. Besides, I didn’t build this alone.” He gestured frantically at Pied Piper. “Why aren’t you blaming Hartley?”

 

Snart didn’t let up one bit. “Because Hartley never tried to sabotage something I asked him to build.”

 

“Cold.” Hartley came up close to them but didn’t try to reach out or touch Snart. “I know. I know.” And there was a depth of meaning in that single word that Cisco didn’t even pretend to understand. “But don’t take it out on Cisquito. He’s done the best he can.”

 

Cisco turned to look at Hartley in disbelief. He felt a flicker of warmth inside him. Maybe Hartley did like him. He held a hand up to his heart, his eyes crinkling in a smile as he let out a heartfelt, “dude.”

 

Hartley grimaced. “Don’t get any ideas. Your best is my average. I still hate you.”

 

“Stop fighting it, dude. I know you love me.” Cisco considered the other scientist for a moment. He was different. There was still that grouchiness to his conversations with Cisco that he’d had from the very moment they’d met. Cisco had always chalked it up to a fear of failure, Cisco being seen as a potential usurper of Hartley’s position as Dr Well’s right hand man, second in command. But he wasn’t quite as sullen as the last time they’d met, and he looked healthier in a way Cisco couldn’t quite pin down. “You know what? Being a Rogue suits you. You’re not half as angry. I would say I’m surprised you took to the dark side so well, but I’d be lying. You were born to be a Sith Lord.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Children,” Len cut in, “can we please focus? Why isn’t it working?”

 

Cisco shrugged. “The portal’s open. It’s all ready to go. We just have to wait for Barry to find it.”

 

Len glared at the dome of light emanating from the pocket mirror, stalking around it warily. “What if he never does?”

 

“Have faith, Cold. It’s Barry.”

 

“I don’t have faith in anyone but myself when it comes to my sister’s safety.”

 

Cisco didn’t doubt that. He’d seen the CCPD files, he knew what kind of background the Snart siblings had come from. He and Dante may hate each other but Dante had still thrown himself into danger to let Cisco escape and Cisco had given up his biggest secret to ensure Dante’s safety. Imagine what lengths they might have gone to if they’d actually liked each other and if the entire world had been against them their whole lives.

 

Cisco was thrown from his introspection by a flash of lightning across the room and a thud. When his eyes chased the movement of the streak from the portal, they found a decent sized dent in the plasterboard wall and directly beneath it the tangled forms of Lisa and Barry.

 

Snart yelled “Lisa!” at the same time Cisco shouted “Barry!”

 

From the looks of it, Barry had taken the brunt of the crash; plaster powder coated the back of his suit with barely any on Lisa where she was safely wrapped up in his arms. On hearing her brother’s voice though, Lisa was instantly pushing Barry’s arms off her and scrambling to her feet, using Barry’s still form as leverage to jump up and into Snart’s arms.

 

“Lenny!”

 

“Lees!” He hugged her tight to himself, only drawing back to take her face in his hands and look her over for injuries. Cisco could see lengthy but shallow cuts all over her exposed skin but nothing so bad that it wouldn’t heal within a week. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine.” Her voice was sure but she leant into his touch all the same. “I’m fine, Lenny.”

 

He wrapped her back up in his arms.

 

Cisco watched the reunion for a while – Len and Lisa whispering things to each other, heads held close together, hands and fingers articulating, dancing, reassuring – before he came to his senses.

 

Barry remained where he’d fallen on the ground, arms and legs thrown out akimbo. The gentle rise and fall of his chest assured Cisco that he wasn’t in need of any urgent attention, but his boy still looked like he’d been in a fight with a tornado and lost. His cowl was on for all the good it did; it and a decent portion of the suit had been shredded. Like Lisa he was covered in shallow cuts all over, the blood covering him making it seen a lot worse than it was.

 

Still, Cisco would feel a lot better if he could get Caitlin out here to check him over. He doubted that was in Snart’s plans though.

 

Cisco knelt beside Barry and gave him a pat on the shoulder. The Scarlet Speedster groaned and squinted his eyes open. “Why is it so dark in here?”

 

Cisco chuckled but didn’t think the question needed an answer. “How are you doing, man?”

 

“Cisco?” Barry looked up at him owl-eyed for a second. What followed was a mash of panic, guilt and sadness in his eyes that disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. When Barry continued, it was in a strained impersonation of his regular, jovial voice. “Honestly? I’ve been better. I just want to eat about 20 Big Belly burgers and sleep for a week.”

 

Cisco could see the exhaustion etched on his friend’s face in the darkness beneath his eyes and the pinched look of his expression. He didn’t need Cisco nagging him about why haven’t you called? or you can’t just push us away or we’re grieving too right at this moment. It could wait until this whole Mirror Master mess was over with. Cisco would just do what he’d always done: be whatever support Barry needed.

 

Need number 1 was fairly obvious. He turned around. “Hey Hartley!”

 

The man in question had retreated to stand awkwardly near the door, looking less than impressed to be the fifth wheel in this reunion.

 

“What?”

 

“Does this super scary lair have a kitchen?”

 

Hartley sneered. “Of course it does. What do you think we are, animals?”

 

“Lead the way then.” Cisco pushed himself up off the floor, turning back to Barry to say, “just hold on a little longer, we’ll get you something,” before he quickly shut off the portal machine and followed Hartley out of the room and to the kitchen.

 

***

 

As the door shut behind Cisco, Barry took the momentary reprieve from having to communicate to close his eyes and let the heaviness of his body drag him down. He was exhausted. He could go to sleep right here on the floor. In fact, that was exactly what he was going to do. He’d done enough today. The world could look after itself for a few hours.

 

As soon as the beam of light had shot out of the mirror in the distance, he’d grabbed Lisa and headed towards it. The mirror monsters hadn’t liked that. They’d come after him, smashing other mirrors as they went and increasing their ranks. They were fast and Barry had been running on fumes. Only adrenaline had kept him going as his legs and lungs screamed at him to stop and mirror shards cut into him from almost all angles.

 

It felt like it had taken forever to make it to the lit up mirror and the second he was about to hit it – praying to anyone who’d listen that they’d go through it and not just splat against the glass – he was assailed with the fear that the mirror monsters would follow them through. He knew if they did he wouldn’t be able to fight them. He’d used up all of his energy getting as far as he had.

 

Thankfully the monsters hadn’t followed them through the looking glass though. The mirror had given way as he ran through it and straight into a wall. He never thought he’d miss walls, but after the endless space of the mirror world it felt nice to be caged in.

 

The cuts from where the mirror monsters had slashed him pulsed a dull pain but not enough to worry him. They’d heal within the hour, he was sure of that. He heard Leonard and Lisa talking together in muted voices. The calm, unhurried cadence of their speech was the ultimate proof he was out of harm’s way. He was safe with Leonard there. He could rest. Leonard would protect him, even if he was only doing it because Barry had protected Lisa. Quid pro quo. This for that. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours…

 

As he was drifting - the quiet murmur of Leonard and Lisa blurring into a hum – he became aware of being shifted in that disconnected way every sensation took on when you were halfway between sleep and awake. There was the knowledge that it was happening but also the feeling as if it was happening to someone else and he was only watching from afar. Then his head was lifted. The moment he was about to resist this new disturbance to his rest, his head was rested on something warm and elevated, softer than the floor. He curled into the new position, turning to rest on his side.

 

At some point the cold went away.

 

The stuffiness of his mask was peeled back and he hadn’t realised until it was gone just how suffocating it had felt.

 

Fingertips tangled in his hair.

 

“You did good, kid.”

 

He let himself sink into darkness and sleep, lulled by the warmth of that touch.

 

***

 

There hadn’t been much in the Rogue’s kitchen but Cisco hadn’t really expected there to be.

 

He’d managed to pry some frozen chips and pizzas from the freezer and stick them in the battered old oven and while it wasn’t ideal, it would hopefully give Barry the jumpstart he needed to at least get him off the floor.

 

Hartley had micromanaged him the whole time. Since Snart was focusing on his sister and the rest of the Rogues were away on their own mission, Cisco assumed Hartley had been given the task of being his babysitter. It was flattering that they considered him enough of a risk to give him a minder but now that he was here, Cisco wasn’t about to leave without Barry.

 

For the twenty-odd minutes it took for the food to cook, Cisco focused intently on his shoes. Whenever he glanced up, Hartley would be glaring at him or random kitchen objects. Cisco didn’t dare look around too much. There were several Rogues who he was sure would be happy to never let him leave this place if he saw something he wasn’t supposed to. Snart’s deal with Barry was hardly a comfort when no one knew he was here and there were new Rogues who maybe weren’t as keen on Barry’s ultimatum as Snart. He almost wished they’d just kept him blindfolded.

 

The ding from the oven timer almost scared him to death.

 

Hartley rummaged around in the cupboards and Cisco plated up the food on the mismatched crockery he’d found. Two pizzas and a kilogram of chips. Hartley somehow managed to extract salt and tomato sauce from the barren wasteland of the Rogue’s hideout. It was a start. Get Barry mobile again and he could source out his own food supply.

 

Cisco went back the way they’d come with Hartley following behind at a distance. He re-entered the room he’d dubbed their workshop (he had no idea what it had been before he and Hartley commandeered it), both hands full of plates of food and froze.

 

What he saw in front of him made him question whether Barry and Lisa had really escaped the mirror world or if he’d somehow been dragged into a topsy-turvy upside down universe instead.

 

Cold and Lisa had separated from their weird Snart sibling wordless mind meld while he and Hartley had been gone. Cold was now sitting on the floor, Lisa next to him, using the busted up wall as a backrest. Lisa’s head was tilted to the side, resting on her brother’s shoulder, her eyes closed and expression soft. Candlelight played across her face, the only light in the room now that his machine had been turned off. Cisco thought she was probably asleep, but you never knew with Snarts.

 

Barry on the other hand was definitely asleep, his deep breathes sounding loud in the otherwise quiet room. His head was pillowed on Cold’s thigh, the villain’s hand tangled in his hair. His cowl was pulled back from him face, hanging loose around his neck like a hoodie. He looked unguarded, the tightness of his features from before having melted away. Cold obviously hadn’t noticed Cisco’s return because his gaze remained fixated on Barry’s face.

 

Embarrassment hit Cisco right in the stomach. The kind he’d felt walking into conversations that were about him or that one time he’d accidentally caught Caitlin and Ronnie making out in a supply room. That perverse feeling of being witness to something private that he was never supposed to be privy to.

 

No one in this room wanted him seeing what he was currently seeing, he was a hundred per cent sure of that.

 

He remained frozen in the doorway, knowing if he moved – either to advance or retreat – he could break this moment and draw Snart’s attention to himself.

 

This was it. This is how he died. Iced to death by Captain Cold for accidentally spying.

 

“Out of the way,” Hartley grumped as he elbowed Cisco through the doorway and into the room. Cold’s eyes immediately leapt to the two scientists, expression calm and hand still moving through Barry’s hair. He made a shushing motion and only gave them a moment more of his attention before he returned to how he’d been before.

 

What.

 

The.

 

Hell.

 

Cisco crowded into Hartley’s space – stopping him from moving much further into the room – close enough that he could hopefully whisper without Snart hearing or disapproving of him being too loud. “What’s going on?”

 

“Seems your boss and my boss are a bit more than enemies.”

 

“And you knew about this?” Cisco accused. “For how long?”

 

Hartley just rolled his eyes and stepped around him to place the plates of food near the cuddle pile. Cisco had no choice but to follow his lead so he wouldn’t look too suspicious. But this whole situation was freaking him out.

 

Hartley fingerspelt something to Snart with his right hand but even at the slow speed he was going – obviously Snart wasn’t anywhere near conversational, let alone fluent – Cisco couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Snart gave him a nod.

 

Hartley turned to go and quietly ordered Cisco to stay as he passed.

 

So Cisco did just that, looking everywhere in the room except at Snart, Barry and Lisa.

 

This was so awkward. Surely there were better places he could be, more useful things he could be doing than pretending the trio on the floor were Medusa and looking at them for even the smallest amount of time would result in his death by petrification.

 

He was about the retrieve the laptop he’d been using and attempt to find Hartley when there was noise from the hallway. Snart obviously heard it too because his head snapped up. His left hand darted out to fist around Barry’s cowl but the right stayed where it was, as if he didn’t want to disturb Barry’s sleep.

 

As the voices grew closer, Cisco recognised them as Rory and Mardon’s. They must be back from their fact finding mission and coming to debrief. With Cold. Who was currently cradling the Flash’s head on his lap like they were best pals. Or maybe more. And judging by Snart’s reaction, the two out there didn’t know as much as Hartley.

 

Cisco took a deep breath. He didn’t want to do this.

 

Barry was going to owe him big time.

 

Cisco strode out into the hallway with a confidence he wasn’t feeling.

 

Rory gave him only a cursory glance, obviously not seeing him as any kind of obstacle. “Lisa back yet?”

 

“Y- yeah.” Cisco couldn’t help the stammer in his voice, he’d just noticed the bloodied state of Heatwave’s knuckles. “Lisa and Flash are safe. They’re resting. You can’t go in there.”

 

They both gave him an amused look.

 

“Who’s going to stop us?” asked Mardon. “Because as far as I can see, you’re our prisoner and not the other way around.”

 

Cisco couldn’t even dispute that. He took a step back as Mardon and Rory advanced, right into Hartley’s chest.

 

Hartley, who’d somehow snuck up behind him and planted himself in the corridor.

 

“You can’t go in,” he said with crossed arms.

 

“Why the fuck not?”

 

“Because I said so.”

 

“We’ve got information the boss’ll want to hear,” Heatwave insisted.

 

“It can wait.”

 

“No, it can’t.” The air around Weather Wizard crackled with electricity.

 

Hartley waved them off, showing no sign of being intimidated. Cisco couldn’t say the same for himself. “Go lift weights or hold up a liquor store or whatever it is you bad boys usually do in your spare time.” Hartely leered at them. “Give me a call if it starts getting sweaty.”

 

“Fuck off, Hartley,” Rory grumbled good-naturedly, slapping Mardon on the back and dissipating the static electricity filling the corridor.

 

“Bite me.”

 

“Fine.” Rory finally conceded. “Let us know when Frosty’s taking guests again. We’ll be having a beer.”

 

Hartley nodded. “Sure thing.”

 

The pair lumbered off the way they’d come and Cisco gave an audible sigh of relief.

 

“Come on, Cisquito. I’ve got a new project for you.”

 

Cisco followed after him, away from the room his friend, potential girlfriend (hey, a man could dream) and enemy slept on.

 

Chapter Text

“I’m not convinced.”

 

“No, I’m telling you, I know this for a fact.” Cisco glanced up at Hartley as he typed away on the keyboard; he’d always been told eye contact was a big part of building trust and with how looney what he was about to say was going to sound, he’d need it. “Barry ran so fast he travelled back in time and changed the future. So either the timeline’s been rewritten and the old one’s gone forever or the original timeline still exists and we’re currently living in a parallel universe.”

 

Hartley had given his explanation his full attention but returned to jotting down notes with a look of disinterest afterwards. “You always did love the idea of a multiverse.”

 

Cisco pushed back from the desk he was at and threw up in his arms in annoyance. “I don’t understand why you don’t get excited about it too. I tell you I personally know someone who’s time travelled and it’s like I told you two plus two equals four.”

 

“Nothing surprises me in this town anymore with you and your freak friends running around.”

 

Cisco was gobsmacked. “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! You hang out with the Rogues!”

 

They were in the room that Cisco had dubbed 2 Work 2 Shop after an intense debate with Hartley (who’d fought for the Chamber of Secrets because he was an unrepentant Potter nerd). They’d been working on the computers since they’d left the Snarts and Barry to sleep it off a few hours ago. Cisco suspected Hartley’s “new project” was less an actual project and more keeping Cisco busy and giving Snart his privacy. They hadn’t found much more public information on Evan McCulloch and instead had been taking notes from the rap sheet Argus had on him.

 

A couple of knocks came from the door and stopped whatever comeback Hartley might have had. Lisa popped her head in and without preamble, she announced, “we’re meeting in the room with the chairs.”

 

Cisco got only the briefest glance at her before she was gone again.

 

“The room with the chairs?” Cisco repeated, turning to Hartley, eyebrow raised.

 

“It has chairs in it,” Hartley supplied, completely deadpan.

 

Cisco got up from his seat, stretching the stiffness out of his neck and back as he moved. “Yeah, thanks for that. Never would have figured it out on my own. I bow down to your genius.”

 

Hartley just flipped him the bird in return.

 

As much as he was loath to admit it, working with Hartley had been kind of fun. Sure, they didn’t have the smooth, argument-free working relationship and easy banter that he and Joe had but it was nice to explain something science-y and not be met with a fond but confused stare back.

 

He and Hartley had studied the same things, moved in the same nerd circles (definitely different social circles though). He provided Cisco with the quick-fire volley back and forth that he’d missed since Barry withdrew from them all. When Cisco spoke, Hartley got it. What’s more, he could take Cisco’s ideas and put his own spin on them to make them bigger and better.

 

Too bad he was a massive dick.

 

They were the last to arrive in the chair room and it wasn’t quite the Doris Salcedo installation Cisco had imagined. Sure, there were several of them but the chairs were old-fashioned in design and too threadbare and damaged to even be considered antiques; a bit more use and they’d look pretty at home on someone’s curb on hard rubbish day. Nevertheless, along with the lack of modern electrical lighting in favour of candles they gave the space an old timey smoking room kind of vibe that Cisco dug. He was sure that was all Cold’s influence. He couldn’t imagine any of the others giving a damn about aesthetics. The chairs had been arranged in a more or less circular pattern around a wooden coffee table in the centre of the room.

 

Barry was the first person Cisco saw as he came through the door. He was looking much more alive than the last time Cisco had seen him, leaning back against the wall and keeping an eye on everyone in the room. He must have flashed back to STAR Labs because in place of the shredded costume he’d made it out of the mirror world in, he was now in a brand new suit, not a scratch on it. Cisco wondered how many more of those he had left. There’d been three when Cisco had left the labs for the last time after the singularity and he was sure Barry wouldn’t have any idea how to manufacture more without him. Maybe this was the last one.

 

Ewww. But who was washing them now? Because he was sure as hell Barry didn’t do that. He’d seen the mess that was his boy Barry’s room at Joe’s and spent enough early mornings scrubbing speedster funk out of his beautiful creations to know that.

 

Captain Cold was seated on the complete opposite side of the room to Barry, as if that was fooling anyone. Yeah, nothing to see here. Move along. At least Rory and Mardon didn’t seem to be in on it. Cisco might not have been in Barry’s life much lately – Barry’s choice, not his, and he’d tried to respect that – but he would have felt like a complete idiot if Heatwave of all people had figured out that something was going on between the Flash and the leader of the Rogues before he did.

 

Lisa was perched on the armrest of her brother’s chair, looking so put together it was hard to believe she’d been imprisoned and fighting for her life a few hours ago. Gone was the raw emotion from her reunion with her brother, replaced by the calm control he remembered from their first ever encounter. Barry wasn’t the only one who’d freshened up either; her makeup and hair were flawless and her outfit undamaged. The bright red scratches on her face – minimised by powder or foundation but still visible – were the only traces of what she’d been through.

 

Cisco followed Hartley as he made his way towards Rory and Mardon and took a seat beside them. The Rogues’ heavy hitters had a beer each in hand and Heatwave was sprawled back in his chair in an easy, unconcerned way. There were still plenty of chairs left over with all the Rogues now seated but seeing the hostile look Mardon shot him and then catching sight of the raw knuckles of Rory’s fists as he was evading the Weather Wizard’s glare, Cisco decided it might be safer to stand next to Barry instead.

 

Bros before the group of supervillains who kidnapped you-oes.

 

Snart surveyed the assembled Rogues, not paying any particular attention to the two white hats in their midst. “Any news about Walker?”

 

Mardon scoffed. “No. The kid’s gone underground. Probably ran back to cry to his daddy. I don’t know why you –”

 

“And what else did you find out?” Mardon glared at Snart for his interruption.

 

“We talked to the girls,” Mick supplied.

 

“Girls?” Cisco mouthed at Barry. The speedster just shrugged his shoulders with an equally puzzled look on his face.

 

Snart reclined back. “How is Angie?”

 

That name brought a look of dawning realisation to Barry’s face. Cisco quirked a questioning eyebrow at him but he just shook his head with a not now look. Well, didn’t that just make Cisco want to find out more. But, then again, curiosity did kill the cat and he was skating on thin ice as it was. For now he decided that discretion was the better part of valour and went back to pretending he was invisible.

 

Mick grunted. “She’s good. Says hi. Wonders why she hasn’t heard from you lately. Don’t worry,” Mick looked overly pleased with himself as he tapped a finger against his nose, “I kept your secret.”

 

Mardon perked up at that, scenting blood in the water perhaps. “And what secret is that?”

 

Snart glared at him. “None of your business.” His feathers were obviously ruffled though: his usual drawl had been a bit more strained than usual and with a hint of a snarl in the curl of his lip. By the time he’d turned back to address Rory again, his façade was back up. “And what did the girls have to say?”

 

Rory shrugged. “Some new guy’s been hanging around. The description fits McCulloch: impossible to understand accent, gap tooth, all that. Never says much, they say, ‘s just after a good time. Strictly women and whiskey only. No shop talk. The girls are going to give us a call the next time he comes around.”

 

“Wonderful. And where did the bloodied knuckles come from?” Mick looked down at his hands, as though only now remembering the state of them.

 

“Ah, I didn’t like the look of this one guy.”

 

The quirk of his lips that passed for a smile with Snart was fond and indulgent. “No, I’m sure you didn’t.”

 

Cisco didn’t miss the unhappy look on Mardon’s face as Snart and Rory interacted. He’d slowly been getting the feel of the Rogues’ dynamics the more he was around them and while they were generally pretty buddy-buddy, there was some definite tension between Captain Cold and Weather Wizard. Snart’s dismissal of Mardon earlier and Mardon’s eagerness to have dirt on his boss made it obvious that it wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows with them. If he was a betting man, he’d put money on Mardon being the next one to jump ship if push came to shove.

 

Snart leant forward, resting his elbows on his knees and steepling his hands under his chin. “So, we’ll have McCulloch’s location at some unspecified point in the future. That’s one thing we have in our favour. Unfortunately, it’s about the only thing we do. We’ve lost the element of surprise. In all honesty, we probably never had it. He’s been watching us for a long time. We’re in a blackspot here but as soon as we leave this house he’ll be able to monitor us again. He probably already knows you were asking around and that we’re going to be tipped off.

 

“But that overconfidence is going to be our best weapon. He thinks he’s unassailable because of his powers. We’re going to show him that he’s not. That’s why, when we hit, we have to hit hard, be organised and fast.” He gave Cisco and Barry his full attention for the first time. “Am I right in assuming you’re in this for the long haul, Flash and sidekick?”

 

A look passed between the two of them. It was Barry who answered. “I think we can both agree to a temporary truce until the Mirror Master is dealt with.”

 

“Good. Both of your skills should prove useful.” Snart turned to Hartley next and started asking him to provide maps and blueprints for the bars McCulloch had been sighted in.

 

With the Rogues’ attention mostly focused elsewhere – although Rory was eyeballing them now - Cisco motioned for Barry to come in close enough that Cisco could speak to him semi-privately.

 

“We need Caitlin.”

 

“What?”

 

“She’s the obvious choice here. He doesn’t know Caitlin. We text her off a new phone, just in case he’s monitoring ours.” He raised his voice to ask Rory, “You guys have a supply of prepaid phones, right?” He’d been not so secretively snooping on their conversation from the start, so his nod came immediately. “See? I’m sure they’ve got burners to spare. So we text Caitlin the plan, she’s on board and Mirror Master’s none the wiser. She’s our ace in the hole.”

 

“But what if she says no?”

 

Cisco closed the remaining distance between them and dropped his voice to a whisper. It was awkward as hell doing this in front of an audience but it needed to be said. “Barry… You only had to ask and we would’ve been there in an instant.” He gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder to lighten the mood. “Not as fast as you, obviously, but as fast as us mere mortals can.”

 

“Caitlin…” Rory mused, drawing Cisco and Barry’s attention back. “She that fiery doctor?”

 

Snart’s voice answered in affirmation before Cisco and Barry even got a chance. Damn his spooky omnipresent omniscience. “She is indeed, Mick. So,” he honed in on Barry and Cisco again, “how do you propose the good doctor can help us?”

 

The two of them shared a nervous look before Barry pushed himself off the wall to walk between Hartley and Rory’s chairs and stand in the middle of the room. His attention was on Snart but he was addressing them all. “McCulloch won’t know about Caitlin’s role in Team Flash. She took up a job at Mercury Labs not long after the singularity and hasn’t had contact with any of us since.”

 

“Yeah,” piped up Cisco. He stayed where he was on the periphery of the room though, not quite as game as Barry was to wade into the middle of the Rogues. “Argus intel that Hartley and I dug up doesn’t have McCulloch leaving San Diego for Central City until a couple of months after the singularity. He wouldn’t know about any of Team Flash unless he did some decent digging. I’m probably compromised because of the, you know, kidnapping, but Caitlin shouldn’t be under watch. I think she’ll help us.”

 

Snart remained silent for a moment, the gears in his head visibly turning. Eventually he conceded that she was a possible asset. While Barry and the Rogues continued hammering out the plan, Cisco was sent to retrieve a burner phone from the “blue room”, candle in hand. He supposed when a house wasn’t lived in and was just a collection of partitioned spaces, living room, bedroom and the like weren’t useful distinctions.

 

Cisco was slowly getting his bearings in the house now that he was allowed a little more freedom to roam without supervision. He’d figured out that the hall ran from the front door to the back and all the rooms came off of it. The kitchen had been at the very back of the house; a bathroom was there as well. On his way down the corridor he passed the room he recognised as the one he’d first been held in, where he’d woken up bound to a chair and blindfolded. After a little bit of exploration, the blue room turned out to be a medium sized room opposite 2 Work 2 Room at the very front of the house with only a desk in it.

 

He opened the top drawer but it was just full of papers. He kept going and the one below it revealed a stash of various mobile phones and accessories.

 

“Bingo.”

 

Any of them would have done, but Cisco dug through until he found one he liked the look of. Tech could make or break the plan and he didn’t want one that’d conk out at the wrong moment. A quick fiddle revealed the phone had run out of juice so he dug back into the drawer to extract a charger from the mess of cables and wires.

 

Having got what he came for, Cisco started heading back to the chair room. But curiosity got the better of him as he passed the room he’d first been kept in. After a quick look around to make sure none of the Rogues were checking up on him, he ducked into it.

 

There on the blacked out window’s sill was his mobile, just where he remembered seeing it when he’d been tied up to the chair earlier today (was it really only earlier today? It felt like forever ago). In seconds he’d grabbed it up and ducked back into the blue room, tapping into his contacts as he went. It only took a few rings before Joe picked up.

 

 “Cisco! Are you okay?” Joe’s voice through the phone was panicked.

 

Cisco slumped against the wall beside the doorframe, trying to stay out of eyesight from the doorway should anyone come by. “Hey, Joe. Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”

 

“Where are you? Have you seen the news?”

 

“No, but I’m guessing it says something along the lines of the Flash has disappeared!

 

“And Snart and his gang of merry thieves are taking over. The whole city’s freaking out. They’re talking about bringing in the army. Where are you?”

 

“Well… I’m actually with the Rogues at the moment.”

 

“What?!”

 

“They kind of… kidnapped me? But Barry’s here too. We’re cool.”

 

“Tell me exactly where you are. I’ll mobilise the task force.”

 

“Don’t, Joe. We’ve got it under control.” He wished with every fibre of his being that that was true. “The Rogues aren’t our enemy this time. Look, I don’t have time to explain it all. Just know that Barry and I are okay and we’re going to settle this.”

 

“I don’t suppose anything I say will change your mind?”

 

Cisco laughed hollowly. “No.” The less Joe knew about this right now, the better.

 

“I hope you know what you’re doing. Look after yourself and look after my son. Bring him back to me.”

 

“I will, Joe.”

 

Cisco pressed the disconnect button and slumped against the wall, just remaining where he was for a minute, breathing. He couldn’t care less if his extended absence made the Rogues suspicious. He needed a moment to himself after everything that had happened.

 

How did he end up in this situation? Getting kidnapped wasn’t supposed to be a non-event. Teaming up with your kidnappers afterwards wasn’t normal.  Superheroes weren’t supposed to canoodle with supervillains. If his comic books had taught him anything, it was that.

 

But black and white hadn’t seemed so clear-cut lately anyway. Doctor Wells – Eobard, he mentally corrected himself – had shown them that you couldn’t always trust the people who acted like your friend. At least Snart was honest about what he was.

 

Cisco supposed it was naïve to believe that truth, justice and the American way would always prevail but damn if he hadn’t held those values close to his heart since childhood and those caped strongmen in quadricolour glory.

 

Maybe it was time to put away childish things.

 

He pushed off the wall, pocketed his own phone and made his way slowly back to the chair room. His re-entrance went unremarked upon and so he made his way over to Barry’s side, passing the phone over to him. He got a nod of thanks in return.

 

He stared at his feet for a while, only half listening in to the discussion in the room, but when Snart began fielding better ideas for a plan he looked up and his eyes met with Lisa’s. She’d obviously been watching him for a while – maybe even since the moment he’d returned – and she didn’t shy away now that she’d been noticed.

 

Now that he thought back, Cisco realised Lisa hadn’t spoken a word since this little meeting began. But in her eyes there was a whole depth of communication that Cisco would need a decade to record and decipher.

 

There was no warning before she broke eye contact and it felt like being dropped into the ashes of the Library of Alexandria.

 

She drew the attention of the Rogues and Barry effortlessly by rearranging herself in the subtlest way on the armrest as she began to talk. “I’ve got an idea and you’re probably not going to like it.”

 

***

 

Caitlin’s phone had beeped at her as she had her hands busy adding protein precipitation solution to some DNA samples. It was probably spam, she reasoned. There was no one left who’d be texting her now, not with Ronnie gone. Professor Stein still kept in touch - he’d lost half of himself too - but he was old fashioned and actually called. She made a mental note to check her phone once she was done with her current task and then promptly put it to the back of her mind.

 

By the time she’d finished that task, the small interruption to her work had been completely forgotten. The message went unread as she sat at her desk alone in her lab and ate the lunch she’d packed that morning. Nothing fancy, just a sandwich and a piece of fruit. Enough to keep her going. Enough to keep her working. Enough to keep her busy.

 

It wasn’t until she was packing up to return home to her empty apartment with its too big bed that she caught sight of the light flashing up in the corner of her phone’s screen. She couldn’t help the kindling hope the sight always inspired in her – maybe he’d found his way home, maybe he was back – even though the logical part of her mind knew that was impossible. Miracles didn’t happen twice. Ronnie was gone and he wasn’t coming back this time.

 

Swiping away from the lock screen and getting into her messages, she was greeted by a number she didn’t recognise. She was almost about to delete it, all hope having fled her, but when she saw the start of the attached message, she couldn’t click into it fast enough.

 

Caitlin. It’s Barry.

 

We need your help.

 

I’m so sorry.

 

 

Chapter Text

A couple of hours later found Len back in his apartment. Once Lisa’s plan had been explained and agreed to with caveats, Cisco and the Rogues had dispersed. Barry had been dispatched in turn to whichever safe house or apartment each Rogue decided to retire to to cover and hide each mirrored surface at super speed. Not that they thought McCulloch would come after them anytime soon but no one liked being watched by a super-powered peeping tom.

 

“Do you think this is going to work?”

 

Somehow Barry had ended up in his bed again. Len had been the last to leave and once Barry had Mirror Master-proofed his rooms, he’d stood in the entranceway awkwardly until Len had invited him into the bedroom with a tilt of his chin. Len knew he shouldn’t allow it – this was becoming too common, too easy - but being awake and on edge since yesterday morning had made him drowsy and permissive and the radiating warmth of Barry’s body was quickly dragging him down to sleep. It took him far too long to pull his thoughts together and make sense of Barry’s question.

 

“It has to.”

 

Barry turned on his side, rolling closer to Len in the effort, propped himself up on his elbow and asked, “Is he really that big a threat?”

 

“Honestly?” Len looked at Barry out of the side of his eye. The last two days had been tense but with Lisa safe and Barry here beside him now, nothing seemed as urgent or serious. He was feeling positively indifferent to the McCulloch situation as he was gently drifting off. “No, probably not. But he used my sister against me and he has to pay for that.”

 

Barry smiled, soft and wonky. “So what you’re saying is you’re being petty?”

 

Len’s lips stretched out in a lazy grin. “Exactly.”

 

Len felt more than heard the huff of amusement that left Barry’s chest. The boy flopped forward then, arm thrown partly over Len’s chest and face nuzzled into his neck.

 

Len remained stock still, not a twitch escaping him to betray his surprise.

 

His first instinct – the one his father’s lessons had drilled into him – was to escape sudden, unexpected physical contact, to throw Barry off of him and get away.

 

But the logical part of his mind told him to clamp down on that instinct. Dear old dad was dead. He wasn’t a scared kid anymore, he was an adult and powerful in his own right. The people who tried to hurt him these days came at him head on and he was better than any of them.

 

And Barry was good, so good, too good. He was young and dumb and he believed the best in everybody. Even an old crook like Len. The least Len could do was tamp down on his own damage and let the kid have this like he deserved.

 

Len consciously willed his body to relax and brought his arm around to tangle in Barry’s hair (he might have grown to find the gesture just as comforting as Barry did, though he’d never admit it) and pressed his lips lightly to the crown of Barry’s head. He’d blame it on the sleeplessness if he had to, rationalise it anyway he needed to. “McCulloch needs to know who’s boss.”

 

Barry hummed, whether in approval or simple contentment Len didn’t have the energy right now to ponder.

 

“Sleep.”

 

And he did.

 

***

 

Len woke to pitch dark and a warm weight on his chest.

 

If he was being honest with himself, it was a nice way to wake up; he didn’t know the last time he’d woken up with another person wrapped around him. As much as he’d like to stay and enjoy it though, there was work to do.

 

He nudged Barry a few times before the kid began to stir. Barry’s face buried itself into Len’s shoulder as his hand smoothed a path across the fabric on Len’s chest. Len watched in amusement as the hand retraced the jut of his collarbone, felt it climb the column of his throat, stop momentarily to catch his pulse and then plant finally at the base of his skull, thumb in front of his ear.

 

Then his face was being pulled down as Barry’s was rising up - eyes still shut - to press chaste kisses against his lips. There was no push for more in the gesture, no urgency to the closed mouth kisses. They were what they were; there was no ulterior motive to them, nor were they offered in hope of gaining anything more.

 

Wasn’t that just Barry in a nutshell.

 

He was too good, too pure for Len. This whole thing had been a mistake right from the start. If Barry had half a brain, he would have known better than to associate with Len and if Len had any bit of good in him, he wouldn’t have allowed it to start - much less continue.

 

But Len wasn’t a good man and he’d take what he could get. He was a thief after all.

 

God knows Barry would wise up sooner or later and that’d be the end of it, so he might as well enjoy it while he could.

 

Barry’s mouth moved lazily against his for a moment longer before pulling back and looking at him through half-lidded eyes, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips.

 

Len almost felt bad informing him that it was time to get up.

 

“How do you even know?” the boy complained, eyes scrunching up and forehead wrinkling.

 

Len smiled fondly. “Internal body clock.”

 

Barry buried his face back into Len’s shoulder. “I need more sleep. It’s, uh,” eyes darted up to his and back down, “a side effect of my powers. More food, more sleep. Yeah.”

 

“Sure it is.”

 

It was obviously bullshit (Barry couldn’t lie to save his life) but for some reason Len stayed where he was, hand running through Barry’s hair and let the kid rest a little longer. It didn’t take long for Barry’s breathing to even out again but Len couldn’t get back to sleep himself. With a decent night’s rest behind him, Len’s brain was kicking into overdrive and working through everything they’d need to get done today to finally end things with McCulloch. 

 

It was another half hour before Barry’s eyes fluttered open again and he rolled over to stretch his gangly limbs. Barry shadowed Len as he went through his morning routine and only left Len’s side when he kicked him out of the bathroom while he showered and changed.

 

Once he was ready for the day, Len exited his bedroom and found Barry puzzling over his kitchen.

 

“I was going to make coffee, but there’s no kettle.” Barry looked around, confused. “Or toaster. Or microwave. So I’m kind of lost. I did find the eggs again though but there's no bacon.”

 

Len smirked and hip bumped him out of the way. Before long he had water boiling in a saucepan and bread toasting in one fry pan and scrambled eggs cooking in another as Barry watched on from the living room.

 

Len looked back at Barry as he flipped the slices of bread over. “Television had led me to believe that university students knew how to get creative in the kitchen.”

 

Barry groaned. “I was an embarrassment in college. If I couldn’t pour boiling water over it or put it in the microwave, it didn’t exist as food to me.”

 

“And you haven’t improved since?”

 

“Unfortunately not,” Barry admitted sheepishly.

 

They ate in companionable silence and when it came time to leave the apartment, Barry insisted on giving Len a lift. He’d almost forgotten the adrenaline rush he’d felt that first surprise trip out to the woods. It was a whole other experience when he had a moment to prepare himself for the supersonic ride, a better thrill than any amusement park could offer.

 

He still didn’t catch much along the way – it was over too quickly – but the dismount was certainly more pleasant when he was expecting it.

 

Only Lisa was assembled at the safe house when they arrived with a whoosh of displaced air; she was in the chair room, sprawled sideways over one of the armchairs and had a spoonful of yoghurt halfway to her mouth as they came to a stop across the room from her. For the briefest moment a look of surprise crossed her face before it was schooled into a knowing grin.

 

“Morning, boys. I hope you got some sleep last night.” She popped the spoon into her mouth and made a show of sucking it clean as Barry’s cheeks grew redder and redder. “You’re going to need it.”


 

Len ignored her baiting and Barry looked nervously between the two siblings, almost seeming to weigh up who could make his life more of a living hell if he took the other’s side, but eventually chose to say nothing. Good to see Len still had the upper hand. He’d been a bit worried about all that time they’d spent together in the mirror world. Lisa was a bad influence.

 

“No one else here?”

 

“Not yet. Hartley said he’d be in soon though. I haven’t heard anything from M&M.”

 

Hartley walked in side by side with Cisco not five minutes later. The two were bickering but it seemed amicable enough and Len was just glad to see Hartley so animated about something that wasn’t teaming up with Lisa to interrogate Len about his personal life.

 

“Sorry to interrupt what I’m sure is a very important argument, but did you finish that job I gave you?”

 

As Cisco started spluttering about how, excuse you, Farscape was very important and underrated and blah blah blah, Hartley piffed a small package at Len. He opened it to find the set of comms he’d asked Hartley to make up for him. They were more discreet than the usual ones the Rogues used by a wide margin and should be almost invisible when fitted.

 

“You’ve got a transmitter that’s fitted inside the ear canal and a receiver that will hook onto the molars,” explained Hartley as Len rolled them around in his palm.

 

“Good work.”

 

Mick and Mardon stumbled in last, still wearing yesterday’s clothes and the latter looking particularly worse for wear.

 

Lisa screwed up her face at them. “What did you two get up to last night?”

 

Mark squinted at her. “Mick convinced me to drink a bottle of tequila with him and then some other stuff but I don’t remember that far into the night.”

 

Mick threw his arms out to declare, “It was a spiritual experience.”

 

The glare Mardon aimed his way was positively charged with electricity. “I hate you.”

 

Len grimaced. “Consummate professionals, the both of you.” He redirected his attention to the room at large. “Gather round, children. Now that we’re all here, we can begin.”

 

The Rogues took their customary spots and this time Barry and Cisco took seats as well. This pleased Len in a way he couldn’t explain. “Evan McCulloch is not to be underestimated. The potential uses of his powers are countless and terrifying. Usually I would leave him for the Flash and buddies to mop up (“thanks, dude,” heckled Cisco), but he made a point of attacking us, of kidnapping Lisa (“Love you too, Lenny,” Lisa joined in). That makes him our enemy for now.

 

“He has observed us for weeks without us knowing. Maybe that amounts to nothing, but it could also mean he knows things about us - about how we behave and react - that we ourselves may not have even realised. We can’t be too careful.”

 

“I know you love hearing yourself talk, Snart, but we know all this already.” Len would hit Mick if he wasn’t his best friend. “Just tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it.”

 

“Fine.” Len turned to Barry. “I need you to do a comm drop. Somewhere where there’re no windows, no reflections. An alley maybe. You need to do it fast. Faster than you usually go. We don’t want McCulloch tracking you.

 

“Once that’s done, Francisco -” Cisco shot him a look of indignation “- will message the good doctor on the burner to let her know where she can do the pickup. Then we’re in action. You and Hartley can find some way to access the city’s CCTV, I presume?”

 

“Ma che c’ho scritto giocondo in fronte?”

 

“English please, Hartley.”

 

“Of course we can, it’s child’s play.”

 

“Wonderful.”

 

“Once Angie gives us the call to say McCulloch’s been spotted, we’ll get that information to Snow. She’ll meet up with McCulloch and lure him to a predetermined position where we will be able to subdue and capture him. That will be Mick, Mardon and Flash’s job. Mick and Mardon will be stationed a couple of blocks away, pretending to be about their usual business so McCulloch doesn’t get any ideas. Barry, you’ll stay here at the safe house so he won’t know your location until it’s too late. You’re fast enough that you can be there in seconds and keep him busy until Mick and Mardon arrive.”

 

Barry gave him a nod of understanding once he’d finished his directives. How nice to have all that power at his command, Len mused. A man could get used to this. He didn’t think Barry would agree to help out on heists anytime soon though. More’s the pity.

 

A little more chit-chat to iron out everyone’s roles and then Len sent Barry off to plant comms and find a suitable place to lure McCulloch to.

 

***

 

Caitlin messaged them to say she’d pick up the comms on her way home from work.

 

Cisco and Lisa had been lounging around the safe house for most of the day. Hartley had flittered in and out depending on his mood but the rest of the Rogues had been scarce. Hanging with Lisa was fun, Cisco had decided. With no ulterior motive to be served (that he could guess), Lisa’s flirting had turned entirely playful and Cisco realised it was more of a game than anything to her. With that knowledge, they were now on a level playing field and he intended to give as good as he got.

 

They were currently in one of the makeshift work rooms so Cisco could work at a computer. Lisa was leaning over his shoulder, arms braced against his seatback, watching him as he worked and trying not so subtly to distract him. He’d been doing pretty well at winning this little game of concentration until she moved forward enough that her hair tickled his neck and he felt the whisper of her lips on his cheek.

 

“You’re making this very hard for me,” Lisa straightened back up to her full height – taller than him so Cisco wasn’t even going to bother trying to win that advantage - as Cisco pushed his chair back and turned in it to look up at her with a grin, “but I can’t hold it against you.”

 

Her delight was palpable. “Ooh, Cisco! I didn’t think you had it in you. Watch it,” she pointed a well-manicured finger in his direction, suddenly serious, “or I might take this stiff problem into my own hands.”


The comms chose that moment to crackle to life, thank god. That was a game of chicken that Cisco could picture himself losing very quickly.

 

“Cisco, Barry? Can you hear me?”

 

He spun back around and opened the line from their end. “Yep, reading you loud and clear, Caitlin. Excited about the honey-potting?”

 

She huffed and he realised how much he’d missed that sound. “I refuse to answer that.”

 

“No Barry at the moment but Lisa’s here with me… Oh, and Heatwave just walked in.” Said man grunted out a greeting before taking up a place leaning against the wall and then just stood there doing nothing like a weirdo. Cisco wasn’t going to comment on it though. He appreciated not being burnt to a crisp.

 

“So, what do I need to know about this plan?”

 

Cisco started filling her in on all he, Barry and the Rogues had worked up. Caitlin took it in stride; Cisco didn’t think he’d cope half as well as her if he was in her place but Caitlin always had been practical.

 

Lisa cut in at one point to ask, “Do you have something to wear?”

 

“Something like what Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman? No.”

 

Lisa hummed. “No, try for something a bit more like Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies.”

 

That derailed Cisco’s conversation with Caitlin as Lisa went on to inform Caitlin about the ins and outs of prostitution. Cisco was frankly nonplussed by her depth of knowledge.

 

Some alarmed exclamation of Caitlin’s made Mick snort. “It’s like she’s never met a hooker in her life.”

 

Cisco slowly turned in his direction, eyebrows scrunched together in incredulity. “It’s Caitlin. Of course she hasn’t.” Then he tilted his head as he realised something. “In fact, most people – normal people – don’t know hookers. You’re the outliers here. Don’t make out like we’re the weirdos.”

 

***

 

It was a few days later that they got the call.

 

McCulloch had been spotted.

 

***

 

Caitlin spotted him as soon as she entered the bar.

 

Well, spotted wasn’t exactly the right word. She heard him as soon as she entered the bar. Not only was he loud but the Scottish accent stuck out like a sore thumb even among the discord of voices that filled the space like a constant drone. It took her a moment of listening to get used to the cadence of the language and pull the sounds together into meaning though.

 

Caitlin pulled down nervously on her skirt. It was much, much shorter than anything she’d worn in a long time, barring that outfit she’d gone drinking with Barry in. And didn’t that feel like forever ago now. She’d regained and relost Ronnie in that time.

 

“Do you see him?” came Cisco’s voice through the comm unit in her ear.

 

“Yeah,” she whispered, trying to move her mouth as little as possible. “I see him. What do I do next?”

 

It was Lisa Snart who answered her. “Go grab a drink. Get comfortable. Establish eye contact across the room and try to catch his interest. Don’t mention money but also try to hint that your time’s not free. If he doesn’t come to you then you’ll have to go to him, but we’ll cross that bridge if we get to it.”

 

Caitlin took a deep, steadying breath. She could do this.

 

There was an empty stool at the bar a few seats away from McCulloch’s so that’s where she headed. She felt awkward in her higher than usual fancy heels and she wasn’t sure what kind of expression she should have on her face. Was she supposed to smile? At everyone? Or was treat them mean, keep them keen the wiser piece of advice here? She decided to settle on something between smile and scowl and hoped it didn’t look too much like resting bitch face.

 

She ordered a cocktail once she’d managed to hop up onto the bar stool. Not that she had any intention of drinking it. No. She just wanted something to do with her hands. She looked across to where McCulloch was and looked straight back at her drink when he looked around and happened to catch her eye. Darn it! She’d freaked out. But that was what she was supposed to be doing, wasn’t it? Lisa had told her to make eye contact. Caitlin twiddled with her drink for a few minutes before she decided maybe some liquid courage wouldn’t go astray and started taking measured sips from the glass. She just wished McCulloch would notice her and initiate things so she could get this done with and go home to change into her comfy pyjamas.

 

“Awright, hen?”

 

Caitlin almost fell off her stool in surprise when the Scottish voice broke through her thoughts. When she turned around she found him sitting beside her in a chair that had obviously been vacated while she was wrapped up in her own thoughts. It was like he’d read her mind.

 

“I’m sorry?” and she hated the slight stutter in her words, the unsureness.

 

“Hiya. Sorry, I didnae mean to scare you.”

 

“No, it’s okay.” She ducked her head to hide her embarrassment. “I was off with the fairies.”

 

“Oh, aye? I wouldnae be surprised if that were literal in this city.”

 

Caitlin gave a nervous chuckle. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

 

“How’d you guess?” His wide grin exposed the gap in his front teeth. “Aye, I’m over from Scotland. I like it here though, reckon I might stick around.”

 

“Flirt!” came Lisa’s voice loud and commanding through the comms and Caitlin only just managed to not jump in shock. She’d almost forgotten she was being listened to.

 

Okay. She could do this. She’d watched enough terrible tv in her time to know how to flirt and make it obvious. Caitlin leant forward, knowing that in this revealing dress it would give McCulloch a better view of her cleavage. “I guess you’d be looking to make some new friends then. If you’re going to stay, that is.”

 

“Aye.”

 

She twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “I wouldn’t mind getting friendly with you.”

 

“Is that so?”

 

“It is,” she answered, looking up at him from under her lashes.

 

“D’you want to get out of here?”

 

Well, that was quick.

 

“Okay? I live nearby? If you wanted to…” She trailed off, not sure how explicit to make that suggestion and not entirely sure she’d even be able to say the words if she had them without her face combusting in embarrassment.

 

“Aye, I do.”

 

“Okay.” She smiled at him so that she wouldn’t grimace and hopped off her chair and led him towards the door. They kept a friendly distance as she steered him down streets and laneways she’d never walked in her life, all the while assuring him they were almost there, just a little further.

 

Caitlin’s heart was going a mile a minute as they approached the alleyway. McCulloch was still trailing just a step behind her. Lisa and Cisco’s voices in her ear told her how well she was doing, that they had her on camera and that it was almost over.

 

“Just down here.” She tried to put on her best flirty smile and just hoped it didn’t look too fake. “It’s a short cut.”

 

McCulloch stalled at the entrance to the alley and when she turned back to see what was wrong, he grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her back in his direction. He only smiled as she tried to free herself from his grip and it seemed much more sinister than the ones he’d given her at the bar.

 

“You must think I’m a right numpty. I’m trapped if I go in there… but I think you already knew that.”

Chapter Text

“Shit. Get over there! Back her up!”

Barry was gone before the words were even out of Leonard’s mouth.

He was there and pulling Caitlin out of McCulloch’s grasp just as the other Rogues started clamouring on the comms. It was the work of seconds to put her down a few blocks away on a traffic island, far removed from any mirrors or reflections. As he set her down it almost seemed like she was going to collapse; her knees buckled and he was just about to grab hold of her again but then her arms were wrapped around his neck and he was being pulled into a crushing hug.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay.” Barry’s hands hovered awkwardly out behind her in surprise for a moment before he finally settled on placing them on her back and rubbed what he hoped were soothing circles across her shoulder blades. That always made him relax when Leonard did it for him. “You’re safe now, okay?”

When she did eventually pull away, Caitlin ducked her head and swiped at her face with a balled up fist. By the time she looked at him, her matted eyelashes were the lone trace of any distress.

She gave him a wonky smile and when Caitlin spoke, her voice only faltered slightly. “I don’t think I made a very convincing prostitute.”

Barry couldn’t stop the laugh that punched out of him. He probably sounded a little hysterical. But Caitlin was laughing too so he guessed it was fine.

“I have to get back there, okay? I can’t let Heatwave and Weather Wizard fight him alone. Are you going to be okay?”

Caitlin gave a tight nod that wasn’t entirely convincing.

He pulled her in for one last, quick hug and then flashed back to where he’d left Mirror Master.

The Scotsman was looking around, puzzled, until his eyes caught sight of Barry and then a look of understanding dawned on his face.

“Flash! You awright?”

A scowl clouded Barry’s features. He refused to trade banter with the Scotsman. Like Leonard had said, McCulloch might act like a fool but his powers were dangerous. Barry began circling him, trying to block him off from any exit.

“I didnae expect you to get out of the mirror world so quickly. Well done then.” The Scotsman didn’t budge from his spot.

“This ends now, McCulloch.”

“Too right, pal. I’m getting what I came for and you cannae stop me.”

Barry grit his teeth.

“Flash, we’re coming your way,” Leonard’s voice reassured through the comm. “Just keep him talking a little longer and we’ll be there to back you up.”

“Yeah, Cold’s right,” came Mick’s voice. “Me ‘n’ Mark are just a couple of blocks away. Leave some fun for us.”

McCulloch hadn’t moved, not even to turn and watch Barry as he cautiously circled around him. Of course, it wasn’t like he needed to. There were any multitude of reflective surfaces he could be keeping an eye on Barry from in the area. Barry just had to stop him escaping through any of them.

Piece of cake.

McCulloch had kept talking, oblivious to the conversation going on over the comms. “So, has Cold got that stick out of his arse yet? Is he ready to talk this out, see eye to eye an’ all that?”

Barry snorted. If only McCulloch had an idea of the grudge Leonard currently held against him.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.” He didn’t look particularly put out though. “Rory and Mardon’ll be turning that corner in about half a minute and the Snart siblings are a couple of minutes away by motorcycle. Looks like we’re in for a wee bit of fun. I could use the exercise.”

McCulloch stretched his arms out over his head and began to walk. Barry could only watch fascinated as every couple of steps, the image of McCulloch would seem to pause and waver like what would happen when he used to pause video tapes as a kid. He’d blur a little and then a second – or maybe it was the original? – McCulloch would unpause and keep walking, the double following a second later.

It kept happening, the Mirror Master multiplying in front of him. No, Barry thought, not multiplying. Reflecting. Like fun house mirrors going on and on forever. They weren’t real, just a trick of light.

It was almost too late by the time Barry realised McCulloch was actually circling him, fencing him in. He dashed out and away.

Barry thought back to his early fight against Danton Black - Multiplex as Cisco had dubbed him. This wasn’t so different. He just had to find the prime, knock him out and all the reflections would disappear. Probably. Maybe. Fingers crossed.

It was easier said than done though. Barry looked around at the small army of Mirror Masters in front of him but had no idea how to tell the original from the copies. Maybe he’d luck out and get Mirror Master sweating and pick him out from the line up, but he wasn’t betting on the same trick working twice. Who knew if McCulloch’s powers even worked anything like Multiplex’s.

He certainly didn’t want this ending the same way it had with Danton Black.

Barry had just started running through reflections, shattering them on impact and hoping sooner or later he’d hit something a bit more solid when Mick and Mardon came barrelling around a corner a little further up the street.

He saw Mardon’s lips moving from afar and heard through the comms, “what’s the plan, Flash?”

That’s when it hit him. He was one of them now. Didn’t matter that this might only be a temporary truce. For however long it took to put McCulloch back in his place they were a team. Mardon asking him for directions was the proof of that. He’d seen him and Cold bicker like teenage girls in their downtime but Mardon had always deferred to the man on the field. Now he was willing to follow Barry as well.

It felt weird but in a good way.

“Do you think you could whirlwind these mirror shards away? I don’t know the extent of McCulloch’s powers out here in the real world, but I’m not going to give him any chance to catch us unawares again. I want them gone.”

Mardon didn’t hesitate. In a second he was making hand gestures and Barry could feel the air pressure around him change. As the whirlwind formed and picked up speed and ferocity, Barry ran with it, adding his energy to the maelstrom. Mick decided he’d add his flame to it too without warning, a manic grin stretching his face, and Barry just narrowly avoided the friendly fire.

Barry pulled back and watched, fascinated, as the fire tornado raged. Not only did it clear away the mirror debris Barry had created, it demolished any Mirror Master copies in its wake.

Barry felt a swell of optimism. They could do this. It was almost over.

***

Cold and Lisa had suited up and grabbed their weapons before following quickly on Barry’s heels. Cisco heard the harsh squeal of a motorbike taking off in a hurry and then he and Hartley were left behind to witness what was about to unfold.

They did their best to give warnings and advice, having a clearer and more objective view of the proceedings than any of the Rogues or Barry. Cisco knew McCulloch was wily but they might be able to get the upper hand with sheer numbers alone.

In all the chaos, Cisco’s phone started ringing.

He was about to ignore it before realising what a terrible idea that could turn out to be in their current predicament.

“Heyo.”

“Cisco, what the hell is going on?”

“Oh, hey Joe. Just a little turf war.” Cisco got up and put some space between himself and Hartley for the illusion of privacy. He didn’t know why he bothered, Hartley made no attempt whatsoever to mask the fact that he was eavesdropping. “We’ve got it covered. No need to worry. It’ll be over in no time.”

“No, Cisco, this isn’t some ‘little turf war’. Everyone’s freaking out. You’ve got the Flash on tv looking like he’s joined a group of wanted criminals after just up and disappearing for a week. There are fire tornados involved.”

“Oh. Oohhh, okay, yeah. I now realise how that could look.”

“Yeah, it’s not good. You have no idea the speculation flying around the bull pen right now. And I can’t exactly be all ‘no guys, it’s all good, there’s stuff going on you don’t know about’ because I don’t know about it either. Please, just tell me what’s going on. Please tell me Barry hasn’t joined up with Snart’s merry band of thieves.”

“Well…” Cisco grimaced, “We actually have teamed up with Snart for this one but he’s on the good guy’s side this time. I swear! And he’s going to stay there until this is all done. No more Ferris Air shenanigans. Okay.” He took a steadying breath. “Listen up carefully, Joe, because I‘m not gonna have time to answer questions afterward.” And then he went on to explain the whole mess as concisely as he could, one eye on the CCTV footage of the fight downtown. “So they just need to corner and catch him and it’ll all be over.”

Joe’s familiar put-upon sigh came down the line. “Cisco, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. The army’s here and they’re spoiling for a fight.”

That threw Cisco for a loop. “The army? You mean Eisling?”

“Eisling might have got the ball rolling, but no, others, and they’re not much better.”

Why would the army want to get involved? It made no sense. The CCPD might help where they could but it was the Flash who took care of most of the metas terrorising Central City; that’s just how things worked around here. The public knew it and so did the cops even if no one was willing to say it publicly. The mayor attempting to give the Flash a key to the city was the proof that Barry’s vigilantism was generally approved of.

Cisco tried to reassure Joe. “It’s going to be fine, Joe. The army doesn’t have a stake in this. Barry’ll have McCulloch to you in no time and then we can start getting back to normal.”

“I sure hope that you’re right, for all our sakes.”

***

With Hartley and Cisco’s guidance and Mick and Mardon’s help, Barry was slowly clearing away the Mirror Master reflections but it was starting to feel like he was in a mirror maze at the circus, never-ending, and he really just wanted off this ride. He’d had no luck identifying which of the McCulloch’s was the original and he just kept producing more and more.

Barry needed Len here. Len was cool, calm and rational while Barry just reacted to things as they happened. Len would know how to figure this out. He couldn’t be too far away now either; McCulloch had said he and Lisa were close back when they first started fighting.

He strained to hear the rev of Leonard’s motorbike but all Barry could make out over the noise of their fight was the sound of a chopper approaching. Probably the local news station trying to get the scoop. He hoped they didn’t get too close. What with Mardon’s weather manipulations and Mick’s gun firing off in all directions, this wasn’t the safest area to be in right now and he didn’t need the extra work.

“Watch it, Flash!”

Barry spun around at Mick’s voice just in time to see one of the Mirror Masters (or the Mirror Master?) aiming a hand mirror at him. He’d seen one just like it before. Leonard had used it to pull him out of the mirror world using the machine Hartley and Cisco had designed.

Nope. He wasn’t going back in there.

Barry called the lightning to him and was halfway down the block just as the pocket mirror flashed and the bench and tree that had been on the sidewalk beside him disappeared.

“Guys, watch out. If you see McCulloch aiming a mirror at you, run. He can put you in the mirror world with it.”

He got affirmation from Mardon and a grunt from Mick. Good enough. But where were Leonard and Lisa?

Double checking that McCulloch wasn’t sneaking up on him, Barry raised his hand to his comm unit and opened the line. “Cold, Glider, what’s your ETA?”

“We’re coming down the 74, should be there in less than a minute,” came Lisa’s reply.

“Good, because we could use both of you right now.”

Barry backed up until he was standing in the shadow of the skyscrapers around him. If he kept the buildings at his back, it was one less direction he had to worry about being attacked from. From here he could make out Mick, a stream of fiery heat coming constantly from his gun. He was making short work of the reflections… and a few other things beside. The city wasn’t going to be happy about all the property damage.

Mardon had pulled back as well and was directing the winds from a distance. He was starting to look a bit tired though.

“What’s the time, Mr Wolf?”

Barry startled at the voice in his ear and the whisper of a touch on his shoulder. He spun around and there was McCulloch standing in the reflective window of a storefront.

Damn it! How did he manage to forget McCulloch’s ability to travel through mirrors? How did he almost let himself get dragged back again?

Mirror Master didn’t attempt to chase him as Barry put some space between himself and the window. The chopper was still droning overhead, getting louder all the time, but Barry thought that beneath it all he could almost pick out the sound of a motorbike’s engine.

With a last wary glance at McCulloch, Barry raced into the middle of the street, hitting a reflection on his way and sending a spray of mirror shards out around him. Now he could make out a shape coming along the road towards the battlefield, approaching quickly. A feeling of relief swamped Barry. Leonard would be here soon and he’d know exactly what to do.

He could have turned around and gone back to fighting beside Mick and Mardon; Leonard and Lisa certainly wouldn’t need any invitation to join the fray. But for just a moment, Barry wanted to be selfish. He wanted to stand there in the middle of the road as the winds whipped at him and blasts of heat threw writhing shadows over everything and just wait. Wait until Leonard arrived. Steal a touch while Leonard was too keyed up to flinch away, snatch some comfort from his very presence like he’d been doing the last few months.

The motorcycle’s approach was glacial from Barry’s perspective. He could have run multiple laps around the city in the time it took for the vehicle to pull up fifty metres from him, far away enough from the battle that it should emerge unscathed. Nervous energy flooded Barry as Leonard and Lisa dismounted and threw their helmets to bounce off the asphalt. It all happened in slow motion and Barry wanted nothing more than to run, burn off this welling energy, but at the same time he couldn’t.

Barry was struggling to shape the word hey in his mouth and make it sound casual, flippant.

The helicopter he’d heard before raced overhead and as Barry looked up, drawn by the noise, he had a second to think that it was going too fast and was the wrong colour for the Channel 52 chopper before everything went to shit.

Something impacted into the road between the Snarts and himself and Barry was almost knocked back by the concussive force of the resulting blast. From not too far away he heard McCulloch’s voice screeching, “What the fuck!?” but with all the dust and dirt that had been kicked up into the air, Barry couldn’t see him at all. He spun around, trying to catch sight of anyone.

A presence behind him, he moved and there was a rush of air along his back as a massive robotic hand smashed into the ground where he’d just been.

The beast lumbered out of the swirling dust, its knuckles almost dragging along the ground.

From a distance Barry could hear Leonard calling for Mardon to use his powers to clear the air but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the thing in front of him.

It was a grotesque collision of wiry muscle covered by sallow skin and mechanics. Metallic cloven hooves clip-clopped on the asphalt as it emerged fully from the dust cloud. A grin like a shark, impossibly wide and full of teeth and in place of its eyes and nose was a visor.

“Hello, Flash.”

It spoke. It spoke. In a deep, gruff voice that had that electronic buzz of autocue in it.

Barry didn’t stick around to find out if it knew more words. He tried to make a beeline to where he’d last seen Leonard and Lisa. He wanted to make sure they were okay, that they hadn’t been hurt in the blast.

But suddenly the monster was in front of him, blocking his path. It was impossible. No one moved that fast except himself and…

And the Reverse Flash. Eobard Thawne.

Was this thing another speedster? It certainly moved fast enough to qualify as its gigantic, metal fists whipped out, catching Barry’s shoulders and squeezing until the pain was unbearable. A scream ripped from Barry’s throat.

When the monster’s eyes started heating up, Barry knew he had to escape or he was going to die.

He braced himself against the pain from his shoulder and forced his body to vibrate. Faster and faster, trying to keep pace with subatomic particles. Finally – finally! – he phased through the beast’s hand and slipped to the ground and as soon as his feet hit something solid he was running as fast and as far as he could, not even looking in which direction he was going. It was no surprise when he eventually ran straight into a solid wall, impacting off it to fall flat on the ground.

Turning his head to the side, Barry watched as the laser beams that had been meant to cut through him swept around downtown, slicing through objects like a hot knife through butter. He couldn’t make out any of the Rogues through the lingering dust.

“Flash, that get you?”

Barry groaned as he picked himself up off the ground as he answered Mick. “No, I’m fine.” Nothing felt broken but running into a wall at his speed wasn’t the most pleasant experience in the world. He felt achy all over at the moment but knew the sensation would be gone soon enough.

He looked over to the monster and from a good hundred metres away the monster looked back. There was that horrible, tooth-filled grin again, stretched wider than should be possible. Barry couldn’t look away.

It was just starting to walk in Barry’s direction when a neon blue light moved through it, like an MRA cross-sectioning its body, and swallowed it up.

A noise behind him, like out of a sci-fi movie. Cold, unyielding fingers digging into his temple. The creature’s whole hand enveloping his skull.

He didn’t have time to struggle, to phase out of the hold again. Before he could even properly comprehend what had happened (it could teleport), his head was being driven down into the ground. He thought he heard a crack (probably his nose, hopefully only his nose), his vision whited out for a second and then pain exploded over his face.

Barry’s ears were ringing. He could hear familiar voices through his comms but couldn’t make out the words. Why were they talking gibberish? The sounds didn’t make sense.

Logically he knew that he needed to get up, to move, but his body wasn’t responding the way it was meant to. Every attempt at movement felt like he was struggling through ooblek; what seemed like such an easy thing in theory became impossible the very moment he tried. The monster’s metallic hooves clack-clack-clacked against the pavement as it approached and squatted down in front of Barry.

The noises in his ear amplified.

The thing’s mouth moved and sounds came out. Barry just blinked dumbly.

Its hand moved for his head again and there was panic bubbling in Barry’s chest but he couldn’t move and that thing was going to finish the job this time and there was nothing he could do. He was going to die without ever having had the chance to beg Joe and Iris for forgiveness, tell them he’d been stupid and he’d never really wanted to be apart from them but he’d naïvely thought it was for the best at the time. He wanted so many things in the moment he realised he’d get none of them.

The beast’s hand covered his face. Its grip was so tight. Already he felt suffocated and the thing hadn’t even started yet. It was toying with him like a cat with a mouse. He heart hammered and his breathing was reduced to a jerky staccato rhythm.

When its hand was suddenly ripped from his face, it hurt. But he took the chance to gulp in a deep breath and looked up. The monster was snarling, one hand up as it was pelted with a stream of hot, cold and gold. These seemed more of an annoyance than anything to it. The crack of lightning that Mardon sent down next did slightly better, causing it to stagger away from Barry, momentarily off balance.

The advantage didn’t last long though. It quickly found its footing and made after Mardon who sent a battering volley of wind in its direction to slow it down. The beast kept coming though and Barry watched as Mick parted with Lisa and Leonard to go back the Weather Wizard up.

Once the monster was lured away, Leonard ran to his side. Lisa remained where she was, covering her brother’s back.

Leonard hooked his arms under Barry’s armpits and bodily dragged him until he was propped up against a store front. Then his hands were on Barry’s face, tilting it this way and that as he looked him over for injuries and then checked the dilation of his eyes. Whatever he saw must have put him at ease – which put Barry slightly at ease too – because he pulled back and started to head back in Lisa’s direction. “Stay here. Get better. We’ll hold it off until you can fight again.”

He wanted to nod or warn Leonard to be careful but his body still felt distant. He thought he maybe might have blacked out for a while. What he was certain of though was that when he next opened his eyes, the street was looking a little bit more like hell but his body was feeling a lot more like his own. He could stand up at least, and he only wobbled a little.

It probably wouldn’t be counted among his smartest decisions, but Barry flashed into the middle of the street so he could get a clear line of sight down the thoroughfare in both directions. He knew it made him easier to spot and target but he needed to know what was going on and find out where the Rogues were.

The once quiet downtown street now looked like a war zone. Cars had been thrown around and destroyed; the asphalt of the road and the concrete of the sidewalk were torn up and smashed; the landscape was equally covered in ice sculptures, gilded abstract art and melted wreckage.

“Mardon!”

That was Leonard. Barry spun around, trying to find the source of his voice but not having any luck.

He spotted Mardon in the distance however, and the beast not far from him. Was Mardon… He was, he was flying. That was new. And kind of cool.

But then something happened that Barry couldn’t quite make out and Mardon’s body was rocketing in his direction. His flight was stopped prematurely when he smashed into a car wreck and fell limply to the ground. Barry raced over and shook him, trying to get him to wake up but Mardon was unresponsive.

The change in air current as the beast raced towards them at superhuman speeds was the only warning Barry got to grab Mardon and get the hell out of there. He heard an angry screech of metal he could only guess meant that the monster had ploughed through the car Mardon had hit. He didn’t look back to check.

He didn’t want to risk drawing the beast out of the area where all the damage they were causing seemed to have almost been quarantined. That’s why he quickly decided to dump Mardon only a couple of blocks up, hiding him as best he could behind some untouched cars.

The beast would find him if it put any effort at all into looking but Barry was hoping they could keep it occupied enough that it wouldn’t have the time.

It was waiting for him when he started heading back in its direction, just standing there in the middle of all the destruction it had caused. Barry’s comm took that moment to crackle as if reminding him of its presence.

He zipped down a side street quickly, ducking behind a car so he wasn’t immediately visible if the thing came around the corner and hissed, “Cisco! What’s going on!?”

Cisco’s voice came panicked through the line. “I don’t know. I don’t know!”

“Cisco! We need info!” That was Leonard’s voice. He was okay, wherever he was holed up. “This thing’s tearing downtown apart.”

“I’m trying but whatever this is, it’s top secret. It’s going to take me a little while to get into the army’s system.”

Army? Barry only had a moment to ponder that when a beam of light cut through the car he was sheltering behind, slicing it neatly in half.

“We don’t have time! This thing’s not playing around. It’s trying to kill us!”

Barry ran. He dodged lasers and snaking electricity and some kind of sticky green projectile he didn’t even want to think about. He spied Leonard at one point, hiding with Lisa cradled in his lap. There was a shock of red through her hair and painting her face and Barry tried not to think too hard on that as he immediately changed course to put him as far away from both of them as he possibly could.

Every now and again a blast of fire would try to catch the monster chasing him and Barry was relieved that at least Mick was still up and at it.

But he was getting tired. He’d taken a lot of damage already and he could feel himself slowing. At one point the monster surprised him and managed to grab his leg. Immediately a debilitating surge of electricity ran through his body and he screamed. It was only thanks to Mick blindsiding the beast with his heat gun that Barry was able to escape.

The thing didn’t like that though, and Mick got a shoulder full of blade-like projectiles from its mouth for his trouble. That basically took Mick out of commission, unable to lift his gun enough to shoot, and left Barry the last piece on the board against the army’s abomination.

As he ran, he pleaded. “Cold, I need help. Tell me what to do. Mick’s out, there’s only me.”

Leonard’s reply came instantly. “Flash, I need you to –”

The line cut off.

“Cold?”

Nothing.

Barry slid to a surprised halt and touched the comm in his ear, turning it off and on again.

“Cold? Leonard? Can you hear me?”

Still silence. Cold fear prickled all over his body.

“Anyone?”

Nothing.

“Len? Please...”

Chapter Text

Somehow McCulloch and Len had ended up sharing adjacent hiding places as the monstrosity the army had sicced on them unleased hell on downtown Central City. Barry was holding the thing at bay with his speed but only barely. They needed a plan soon or this was going to go downhill very quickly.

 

He had Cisco and Barry in his ear, the latter all but begging for help, for some idea, some information, some weakness to be exploited as his breathing grew more and more ragged. They knew this beast was probably the army’s doing thanks to Barry’s cop father but apart from that, Cisco had nothing for them. Nothing yet anyway. Len trusted that with both Cisco and Hartley’s energy focussed on the task that it wouldn’t stump them for much longer. The only question now was whether they’d get the answers they needed before the monster got them.

 

Len looked down at his sister in his arms. The beast had got in a lucky shot, hit her in the face when Len hadn’t been fast enough to distract it. There was a lot of blood – there always was with facial cuts – but her breathing and heartbeat were steady. He couldn’t afford to stay here and watch her though. He was needed to fight.

 

When Barry called for instructions, Len knew exactly what had to be done first. “Flash, I need you to get Lisa and Mardon far away from here now. They’re not safe. We can’t fight and protect them at the same time.”

 

No reply came. That wasn’t like Barry. Len cupped his hands over his ears to try to block out the sound of the fighting around him.

 

“Flash?”

 

Still no reply.

 

“Hartley? Mick? Can you hear me?”

 

The comm line was dead.

 

“Shit!” He ripped it out of his ear and just managed to catch himself before he hurled it to the ground. Instead he pocketed the tech. It was useless to him if it wasn’t working but he knew Hartley would bitch him out if it got lost or damaged.

 

McCulloch was slumped against the wreckage of a car, staring at him, when Len turned to assess his surroundings and see what options he had.

 

The man nodded at him with an “awright?”

 

Len regarded him for a moment. "You still want to be a Rogue?"

 

"Aye."

 

"You gonna help us beat this thing?"

 

“Too right mate.”

 

Len leant forward and extended his hand across the distance. McCulloch met him halfway and shook it. “Then welcome to the club. It’s not usually such a shit show.”

 

***

 

“Hartley! What are you doing!?”

 

He was ripping through drawers, trying to find something and the expression on his face was wild. It honestly scared Cisco a little bit. “I’ve got to go fight with them.”

 

“They need you here. I need you here, I can’t do this without you,” Cisco reasoned, trying to appeal to Hartley’s inflated sense of self-worth. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so inflated. Maybe it was exactly in proportion to his actual worth. He didn’t need to know that though. He was enough of a pompous ass as it was. “We need to figure out why the comms have gone down and get them back up.”

 

Hartley turned on him and as he spoke – voice even and restrained – Cisco could sense the thin layer of control holding together a whole heap of hysteria. “That thing did it. I know it. And we can’t fix it. I’m not staying safe here while they’re getting ripped apart out there. They’re my friends.”

 

Cisco held up his hands in a placating manner. “Okay. Okay, man. Tell me what you need me to do.”

 

Hartley went back to shoving through the piles of tech and papers that had accumulated in the room since Cisco had been kidnapped. “Help me find my goddamn gauntlets.”

 

***

 

“What d’you need me to do?” McCulloch asked.

 

Len sighed. “I wish I knew.”

 

“I could start by getting the wee lassie somewhere safe?” he volunteered, sounding hesitant about the offer. Like maybe Len would be offended by it. Like maybe he’d punch him for even mentioning his sister after kidnapping her.

 

Len looked down at Lisa’s face, hiding any expression that would betray his surprise. Of course that was something that McCulloch could do and Len couldn’t believe he’d forgotten that fact. His fear for Lisa, Barry and his Rogues was messing with his ability to think straight.

 

“Okay, get her away from here. My apartment’s all blacked out, but you know the Flash’s headquarters?”

 

McCulloch frowned. “That great big circular place on the water?”

 

“Yes. Take her there and then come straight back. And check how Mick’s holding up too. Tell him to hang low.”

 

Len brushed the hair from Lisa’s face, said a last, silent goodbye in case he never saw her again and helped gently lift her into McCulloch’s arms. Mirror Master quickly surveyed their surroundings – the army’s monster was still a block away - and then made a dash for the nearest unbroken shopfront window. When he’d passed through, Len gave a sigh of relief. At least Lisa would be safe. His main worry now was Barry.

 

He wasn’t really sure where the kid had been when the comms had cut out and he couldn’t ask now. Barry had been sounding more and more frantic and worn out every time he’d spoken though and Len didn’t think he’d be able to defeat this thing on his own. He’d seen the monster swat Mardon out of the sky like a particularly pesky insect and with Mick’s arm out of commission it left only McCulloch and himself to back Barry up.

 

Len just needed some breathing space. He needed to be able to liaise with his team. He needed to know Barry was okay. But he couldn’t talk to Barry without comms and with the thing chasing after him, and if Len got its attention away from the speedster then they’d still be in the same bind - unable to communicate - and Len would probably get killed on top of it all. McCulloch, on the other hand…

 

Speak of the devil. Just that moment Mirror Master reappeared through the window and jogged to join Len in his hiding place. The Scot’s powers would be perfect for what he had in mind.

 

As he drew closer though, Len noticed a trickle of blood coming from Mirror Master’s nose.

 

“Did the monster get you?”

 

McCulloch frowned and Len made a motion to his own nose. The Scot wiped a hand across his face and then looked at the blood smeared over it. He didn’t seem bothered. In fact, he grinned widely and laughed.

 

“Your partner dinnae get the message I’m on your side. If that’s how hard he punches with his left, I’d hate to catch one from his right.” Len shook his head. Mick didn’t have the dexterity in his left hand needed to wield the heat gun properly after the tinkering and fool-proofing they’d done to it, but it would take more than a disabled dominant hand to put him out of action. “He’s fine.”

 

“Can you send this thing on a wild goose chase,” Len gestured at the veritable obstacle course of rubble and debris around them, “give the Flash a breather?”

 

He nodded. “Aye, nae bother.”

 

Without another word, McCulloch was scrabbling into the window of the car they were holed up behind and then reappearing out of a storefront fifty metres away where the monster was presumably stalking in Barry’s direction. At least that gave Len a direction to aim his efforts at.

 

McCulloch bent down to pick something up off the street – probably a chunk of asphalt but Len couldn’t make it out enough to be sure – and then chucked it at the beast.

 

As though the projectile hadn’t been enough to get its attention, McCulloch then whistled through the gap in his teeth. “Come on, big man! Yer sister’s a cow!” he taunted before legging it.

 

Oh Jesus Christ, Len thought, he’d allied himself with an imbecile.

 

It worked though. The thing chased after McCulloch, forgetting about Barry for the moment. It was faster than McCulloch by a long shot, even seeming to put on bursts of speed for short distances that would rival Barry’s own, but McCulloch had the advantage of being able to run through reflections and pop out again somewhere close enough to keep the beast engaged but far enough away to keep himself safe.

 

Len watched the game of cat and mouse for a little while just to make sure it was working before darting from his place of cover to the next in the direction he thought Barry was in.

 

A couple of times he had to make a quick dive to hide as McCulloch and his pursuer got a bit too close or when a laser beam tore through the cityscape. But otherwise Len was making good progress. Until, that is, a metallic roar rent the air, half human sounding and half like a rusty pipe being dragged along concrete.

 

Len looked up from behind a dented car to find McCulloch standing four-storey’s high in the windows of a department store, looking down on the monster with a shit-eating grin. The beast raged, pacing along the street and throwing debris around.

 

Len watched anxiously as it eventually stopped its prowling and faced up against the towering image of McCulloch. If the thing had eyes, he would have said they were staring hatefully at the meta. Then its mouth opened and out came a high pitched scream.

 

It was like nothing Len had ever heard.

 

He dropped to his knees, hands trying to block the noise from his ears, his own mouth open in a cry he couldn’t hear. The noise gained in pitch until every piece of glass in the vicinity started vibrating. Just as Len thought he couldn’t possibly take anymore and his head was about to explode, the sound reached its zenith and every reflection exploded.

 

For a few moments the sky rained window shards.

 

McCulloch’s voice reverberated the broken glass around Len as he groaned, “Oh, you’re a right scunner.”

 

Len looked down into the remnants of a car’s side window near him and asked, “You okay?”

 

“Aye,” McCulloch answered, his face spread like a mosaic over the ground, “the closest reflection big enough for me to get through’s a couple blocks away though. I’ll get out there and be back in a minute.”

 

Len waved him off. “Forget about it. See if you can get to Hartley and Cisco.” At a confused look from McCulloch at the second name, he embellished, “the nerdy one with the long hair who talks too much.” He was still met with a blank stare. “The one we kidnapped.”

 

“Oh!”

 

Len continued. “With the comms down, we need some way to pass messages. And as you said, you have a unique set of skills that might be useful to that aim.”

 

McCulloch saluted him and then his image was gone from the street.

 

Len poked his head up over the hood of the car. The monstrosity was standing over the shattered glass triumphantly, a wet sort of laugh dripping from its mouth. Its mirth was sort lived though. As Len was watching, something fell from the sky and exploded when it hit the monster’s back. It gave a cry, more of annoyance than anything if Len had to guess; its skin remained unblemished, its body uninjured.

 

After that initial hit, the explosives kept coming thick and fast, bombarding the monster from above as it swung around trying to find their origin. Len was just as clueless but he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. They needed any help they could get. Neither Len nor the monster had long to wait for an answer: Axel soon came running out of the sky, the soles of his boots lighting up – and Len could only surmise that whatever it was that was lighting them up was probably allowing him to walk on air – like Hermes coming down from the heavens on winged shoes with a message of hope.

 

“Axel!”

 

Axel’s head swung in his direction and his face lit up when he caught sight of Len. He ran through the air and alighted next to him. The kid was practically bouncing with energy, an excited grin stretched across his face. He went in for a full bodied hug but Len deftly stepped out of his way.

 

It didn’t diminish the boy’s enthusiasm at all. “Hey, boss!”

 

Len graced him with a smile. “I never thought I’d actually be glad to see your face.”

 

Axel practically glowed at the backhanded compliment. “So what’s the plan? Because that –” he jerked a thumb at the beast who was even now picking its way towards them “–is nasty.”

 

Len’s gaze followed the direction of Axel’s thumb and caught the glow of red building on the monster’s visor. He pulled them both back behind a car, under cover. “I’ve been trying to get to the Flash, Axel, but I just lost my distraction.”

 

Axel looked around in confusion before his eyes landed on all the glass underfoot. “Mirror guy?” Len nodded and was a little perturbed by the way Axel’s grin got even wider before the laser blast cut through the car’s trunk, causing them both to throw themselves away and to the ground. Axel wasn’t laying down for long though. Before Len had even had a chance to think about pulling himself up, Axel was on his feet, crouched like a runner at the starting line. “Awesome, leave it to me, boss. I’ve always wanted to do this.”

 

The next second he was running towards the monster, screaming, “LEEROY JENKINS!!!!”

 

Oh Jesus Christ. And he’d thought McCulloch was bad.

 

Axel picked up where Mirror Master had left off though, belting the monster with all kinds of explosives and mostly staying out of its reach thanks to his brand new runners, and so Len was free to resume his search for Barry. He thought he must be getting close.

 

As Len summited a pile up of debris heaped up around a burnt out van, he finally caught sight of that familiar red suit. He would be the first to admit that his hurried scramble down the other side of the mound wasn’t his most dignified.

 

Barry was on his back, limbs throw out haphazardly but he was stirring as Len reached his side.

 

Len crouched down and wanted to hold him but he worried about jostling the boy if he was already in pain. He settled for gently nudging his shoulder. “Barry.”

 

Barry groaned as he rolled to his side and half sat up. His eyes were a little unfocussed and his brow pinched when he met Len’s gaze. “Hey.”

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah.” Barry pushed himself up until he was sitting back on his heels, taking a few moments to breathe and muster his strength. “I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the comms when it blindsided me. Then it just went away.” He shrugged with a wince.

 

Len looked Barry over. It was hard to get a good picture of the boy’s health with him covered from head to toe in that leather-lookalike. There seemed to be some blood close to his brow, just visible under the eye openings of his mask, and Len recalled the sickening crunch he’d heard when the monster had taken Barry’s skull in its fist and pile-driven it into the ground the first time. He was pushing himself up from his crouch into a stand now and the way he winced as his body straightened up led Len to believe that the attack that had knocked him out this time had been focussed mostly on his midsection. Len wondered what kind of damage that suit was currently hiding.

 

“McCulloch was distracting it until the monster got rid of all the reflections,” Len explained. “Axel’s got it occupied now.”

 

“You recruited Mirror Master? C’mon, man,” Barry whined as he dusted himself off, wobbling a little. “I told you not to enlist any more Rogues.”

 

Len smirked. “Can’t help it. I’m just the mothering type.”

 

Barry was standing up now but he had a hand on a nearby piece of twisted metal to steady himself – Len wondered what it might have been before Mick’s heat gun had gotten to it.

 

“Can you fight?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

That didn’t sound too confident. Len moved towards him, offering an arm for Barry to grab a hold on for support. The speedster thought about it for a second but waved him off.

 

“Yeah,” he repeated, more sure the second time as he let go of the piece of metal and stood on his own. “If Axel can keep it occupied another minute or so, I’ll be ready for round 2.”

 

“You’ve been knocked out twice. I think you’re on round 3 already.”

 

A wonky grin made it onto Barry’s face. “It feels more like round twenty-five gazillion.” The words were light, said jokingly but Barry had that expression on his face that Len had learnt meant he was making light of a situation he was actually despairing of. He’d seen it often enough in the last several weeks whenever the subject of Barry’s friends and family had come up.

 

Len spared a glance over to where Trickster was riling up the monster. He either wouldn’t last much longer or the beast would figure out he was only acting as a distraction and ignore him for the real goal.

 

“Cold.” The voice was coming from the smashed up window of the van he’d just clambered over. In the shards that were still clinging tenaciously to the window frame was McCulloch’s face. “I found your boy.”

 

“Has Hartley figured out how to stop this thing?”

 

“That I couldnae say. I only found the Flash fanboy. Piper’s disappeared.”

 

Hartley had deserted them? Len couldn’t believe it. Of all the Rogues – even including Mick – Hartley was the one he’d thought was the most loyal. He’d expected Mardon to betray him at some point, to maybe even try to steal control of the Rogues off of him, and he knew Axel was probably only in it for as long as he was allowed to blow things up and generally amuse himself, but he’d thought Hartley was different.

 

He couldn’t stop his hand clenching into a fist or the snarl curling his lip as he asked McCulloch, “So what does Cisco say?”

 

“Naething much. He’s working on it.”

 

“Tell him to work harder.”

 

“Aye, will do.”

 

He turned back to Barry.  “What’s your plan?”

 

Barry went to run his fingers through his hair before he realised he had the mask on. “I don’t know. The only thing I haven’t tried’s a supersonic punch. It could work but -” his face scrunched up in an expression that was purely Barry “- I need a bit of a run up.”

 

It’s not like they had any better ideas. “Then go. If it notices and tries to follow, I’ll ice it. The cold gun’s not too effective but should hold it long enough for you to do your thing.”

 

As Len unholstered and checked his gun, Barry crowded into his space. “Don’t put yourself in any more danger than you have to.”

 

“I can’t make any promises.”

 

“Len…” Barry went to take hold of his hand but then stopped, his eyes flicking up to Len’s face in that is this okay? expression Len had gotten so used to. It always annoyed Len to no end but now wasn’t the time to work on Barry’s self-esteem issues. Len closed the distance between them, threading their fingers together.

 

Then Barry’s eyes were back on his face but not meeting his eyes, looking lower and…

 

A wolf whistle cut through the little bubble of silence that had come to envelope them. Len looked around and there was Hartley in his costume, perched on top of some rubble and enjoying the show. Len wanted to be angry at him for ruining the moment but he couldn’t help the swell of relief that hit him seeing the hard evidence that Hartley hadn’t abandoned them. Hartley had known the danger and come running towards it anyway.

 

Still, Len couldn’t let this go without saying something. “Hartley.” He tried to put as much judgement as he could into the name.

 

“No, don’t mind me. Keep going.” He leant further back into a comfortable viewing sprawl and waved them on. “The only pleasure I get these days is vicarious.”

 

Len turned back to Barry. “Good luck.” He swiped a thumb over the embarrassed flush on Barry’s cheek and then made himself pull away, forced himself not to look back and headed in the monster’s direction. There was the sound of debris being disturbed and then Hartley was jogging to catch up with him.

 

It wasn’t long before there was a tug of wind at Len’s back. Hartley checked behind them (Len forced himself not to mirror the action; the monster’s head whipping around suddenly on its thick neck was all the confirmation he needed that Barry had exited the scene) before giving Len two thumbs up.

 

“Not a word, Hartley,” Len growled.

 

“I wasn’t going to.”

 

His promise of silence didn’t last long. “You know, I had my flute all ready. And that’s not a euphemism. A little bit of Titanic and he would have swooned.”

 

Len whacked him upside the head.

 

As Len strode forward he explained the basics of the plan to Hartley. Not that there was much to tell. Keep the monster distracted and hope Barry could hit it hard enough to put it out of commission. As far as plans went, it was pretty pathetic.

 

The army’s monster had noticed Barry’s exit. Axel was doing his best but there wasn’t much he could do to stop it from moving in the direction Barry had headed off in now that it had lost interest in the trickster. That put Len and Hartley directly in its path. Well, at least one of Len’s questions had been answered. Taking out the Rogues might have been a bonus, but the beast’s number one target was obviously the Flash. What madman had control of the army at the moment? Who could possibly think the Flash was a threat to truth, justice and the American way?

 

The monster was closing in on them quickly.

 

“Piper, slow it down with your gauntlets and I’ll try to ice it in place.”

 

Len broke off from Hartley, circling around to get a side angle. Hartley played chicken with the beast until it was only about 10 metres away and then he hit it with everything his gauntlets had. The air rippled visibly with the sonic blasts and when they hit the monster, it was thrown back. Not for long though. It leant into the blast, sinking metal fingers into the ground and pulling itself forward handhold by handhold, its visor starting to heat up.

 

Hartley had to halt his barrage as he threw himself out of the way of the laser that cut up the street where he’d just been. But that was when Len stepped in. He’d tweaked the settings of the cold gun as they’d walked, lowering the temperature output to absolute cold. He’d always gone easy on Barry, sticking to temperatures that would slow the speedster down but not injure him permanently. Where would have been the fun in killing the hero when he could keep him around as an ever escalating challenge? That had been the theory at least. He could now admit that maybe a certain fondness for the boy had stayed his hand as well. He wouldn’t show the same mercy to this monster though. He started his attack by icing its hooves to the ground and worked upwards, trying to cement it in place and distract it from attacking Hartley any further.

 

Axel was hanging back, waiting for instructions. Good. The last thing Len wanted was a stray bomb undoing his work.

 

The ice was doing its job. The monster was encased up to its hips now. Maybe by the time Barry came back, the beast would be covered entirely and it would shatter when Barry punched it. Len could only hope. That optimism was short-lived though; it soon began smashing balled up fists against the ice encompassing it, sending shaved ice flying everywhere, screaming in anger. It destroyed the ice as quickly as Len could make it so they were at a stalemate.

 

“Cold.”

 

Len didn’t have the leeway to look around to find out where McCulloch’s reflection was.

 

“What is it?” He grit out, using every ounce of will to keep his hold on the gun. He’d never used it for this long before at this setting and the cold of it was burning even through his gloves.

 

“Ramon says he’s in the army’s network. He’s got the thing’s file. The monster has a shield. A force field? With… plasma? And magnets maybe? I dinnae understand a word of it. It’s bad though.”

 

“And what does he say we should do about it?”

 

“He reckoned the Piper might have an idea.”

 

Len risked a quick glance in Piper’s direction. “Hartley?”

 

He’d paled. “We have to stop Flash. It’s not going to work. He’s going to break his whole arm.”

 

It didn’t matter what Hartley said though. He knew as well as Len did that with their comms down there was no way to get in contact with Barry. The knowledge that he couldn’t stop the bad thing that was about to happen was like roiling acid in Len’s stomach. All they could do was wait. And that was what they did.

 

First came Barry and then came the scream.

 

Beyond following the lightning trail, Barry’s attack had been too fast for Len to track. When he finally located the speedster, he was kneeling in front of the ice holding the monster’s hooves in place, curled forward protectively around his right arm but not touching it. Len could see the unnatural angle of his wrist from where he was standing. His breaths were shallow and he was making a high-pitched keening noise.

 

Len made to run towards him but was halted in his tracks when he heard a cracking. Horror flooded through him as he saw the beast was tearing apart his ice like it was paper. It had been bluffing before, he suddenly realised. It could have escaped at any time. How had he been so stupid!?

 

It grabbed Barry before it was even fully free and that jolted Len back into movement. He wasn’t in time to stop the surge of electricity that arched out of the thing’s hand to encompass Barry’s entire body, making him jerk and flop around like a fish out of water. The blast from his cold gun landed only after Barry had already fallen limp, unconscious as far as Len could make out. It did absolutely no damage and then the same razor sharp blades that had taken out Mick’s arm were cutting through the air in his direction.

 

He managed to throw himself out of the way so that they only cut relatively shallow gashes across his collarbone and shoulder rather than embedding themselves in his organs. Small victories. Very small victories. The cuts stung like a bitch.

 

He gritted his teeth against the pain and then sought out Barry again. The monster still had him and now it was curling one of its massive metal hands around his chest. It seemed to look straight at Len, the blank reflection of its visor disconcerting as it squeezed. That’s when Len realised the speedster hadn’t been knocked unconscious from the electric shock. Because as the metallic vice of the monster’s fist tightened, he began to struggle, pushing desperately but ineffectually at its grip around him.

 

That didn’t last long though. With the unrelenting pressure, he soon fell limp.

 

The monster relinquished its one handhold around Barry’s waist, its other hand going to take Barry by the head like he was a puppet, jerking him around in a grotesque parody of a cheery jig. With a final grin, it let go of him and backed up a good 20 metres but stayed watching as if to see what Len would do.

 

“Barry!!”

 

All the breath went out of Len as the Flash crumpled to the ground.

 

“No. No no no no no no no no.” He kept repeating it, sprinting towards Barry with Hartley on his tail, trying to warn caution but Len was too far gone to care. He skidded to his knees when he got to Barry, pulling the boy into a hug but could it really be called a hug when Barry’s body was limp like a ragdoll and there was a trail of blood coming from his mouth.

 

The monster was laughing.

 

A feral scream ripped from Len’s throat. He was about to go after the monster but Hartley pulled him back.

 

“Your gun doesn’t do anything to it. Nothing’s going to do anything to it until we get rid of the force field.”

 

Len glared at him. “So how do we do that?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Hartley admitted. “But let me talk to Cisco via McCulloch. Maybe he’s found out more since the last time.”

 

“You do that. Watch over Barry. I’m going to go fire my gun at that thing.” He spat the word out like a curse. “It might not work but it will make me feel infinitely better.”

 

And it did make him feel better for a little bit. Having the cold gun humming its power in his hand always gave him a sense of power. Firing it masked the worry and helplessness he felt for all of a minute. That is until it became apparent the monster wasn’t affected and didn’t care about him or his attack in the slightest. It didn’t even try to dodge, just stood where it was and grinned as Len closed the distance between them.

 

The red glow on its visor gave him all the warning he needed to leap out of the way of a half-hearted laser beam. Len knew that his attack couldn’t hurt the beast but it was all he could currently do. He needed to be kept busy and on the move. Otherwise he’d stop and think. Think about how nothing they’d done so far had even scratched this thing, about the destruction it had caused to his town without even trying, about how still Barry had been when he’d held him.

 

No. That way lay madness. Better to keep firing his gun, to keep moving. Better to dodge the apathetic lashings out when they came. If he could just keep his body moving, maybe he could stop his mind from racing ahead and imagining what could be.

 

Hartley’s voice suddenly rang out clear, audible even over the sounds of the cold gun and the monster pummelling a fist into the car Len had just been shooting at it from behind. “Pneuma.”

 

The beast screamed in pain and retreated.

 

Len swung around to find Hartley and demanded, “What did you do?”

 

“I shut it down.”

 

I shut it down. The force field. Len looked back. Hartley was right. His cold gun’s beam had burnt a black patch of frostbite over the monster’s arm, between the parts of it that were machinery. He could see it healing before his eyes though. It must have accelerated healing like Barry then. But its force field was gone which meant Len could just keep hurting it. And how he relished the thought of hurting it.

 

Having been invulnerable for so long, the monster didn’t have the instinct to avoid getting hit like any normal person. Thing. Whatever. Len found this out when he pointed the cold gun point blank at its chest as it barrelled towards him again and pulled the trigger. It didn’t deviate from its path and took the blast straight in the chest. The scream of pain it let out as it slumped to one knee was immensely satisfying.

 

“Hartley!” Len yelled. “Bring it down to all fours.”

 

Hartley didn’t need to acknowledge his order, he just got right to it. Gauntlets raised, he hit the monster with sonic blasts, keeping it from rising to its feet. This time their half-assed plan was going to work.

 

Len got close enough to the monster to do what he needed to do just as the onslaught from Hartley’s attack forced it to drop one of its hands to the ground to steady itself. Len didn’t waste any time at all, he aimed his gun, pulled the trigger and in a matter of seconds the entire arm was swallowed up by jagged shards of ice.

 

There were no signs of fear coming off the monster, but the confusion Len could make out in the puzzled way it looked down at its encased arm was satisfying enough. Len wanted what he was about to do to hurt and he wanted that hurt to last.

 

“This one’s for what you did to Mardon,” he said as he kicked at the frozen arm and it shattered.

 

He circled it until he was in a position to ice its left leg and hoof. “And Mick.” Kick. Smash.

 

“And this one’s for my sister.” Right leg gone.

 

Now it was a torso, arm and head. On its belly, pushed up by the remaining arm so it could look at him even with its bowed neck. Still no fear though. It grinned at Len as he approached with the appropriate amount of caution.

 

“Can your masters hear this? Can they see me?”

 

The monster remained still for a moment, studying him, and then it nodded.

 

“Good.” Len squatted in front of it, gun-toting hand propped up on his knee, the other hanging between his legs. Practised nonchalance. “This ends here. I’m going to put down your pet like the rabid dog it is. You will not retaliate and I will let this go. But only this once. If you ever come after me or mine again, I won’t be so forgiving.”

 

The visor started to glow that ominous red but Len was quicker. He spun to the side and froze what remained of the creature’s body, turning it into a grotesque ice sculpture.

 

There were easier ways to do what he was about to do, but Len chose his fists. The ice was cold and brittle under his punches but he relished seeing the mass of the monster diminish little by little. The cold gun was fun but the pure physicality of punching something was heady. He’d always loved a good fist fight. Sure, this time it was a little one sided but revenge was sweet. It deserved it after the beating it had put Barry through. The time went by in a blur but Len reckoned it took him several minutes to reduce the monster to nothing but melting ice and shattered metal.

 

When he threw off his tattered gloves, his knuckles were bloody and raw. He knew the adrenaline currently coursing through his veins was keeping the pain away for a while but it wouldn’t last forever.

 

Hartley was with Barry, propping him up. Barry was conscious and looking at him, something unreadable in his eyes. Fear, yes, but also something else Len didn’t recognise. Len didn’t care. Len wanted to be back in his apartment in his shitty bed with Barry beside him. They could hide away from the world for a little while. No one would begrudge them that.

 

He watched Hartley help Barry to stand, the speedster more than a little ginger with his movements. Barry was barely upright a second before he was suddenly overcome by a coughing fit, dry and hacking and when Len rushed forward to offer him support, Barry winced away from his touch and pushed him away. “Get out of here.”

 

Len staggered back, hurt. “I’m not leav-”

 

“Just get out of here!” Barry pleaded, his breaths sounding short and hard come by. “I’ll talk to CCPD and get this all sorted out. But if you’re here, they’re not going to listen to me.”

 

“But you’re -”

 

Barry grabbed a hold of his face. “Len. Listen to me. I’ll be fine. Go. I’ll find you later.”   

 

Barry wasn’t fine. He knew it and so did Len. And maybe his powers would be able to heal the damage without much trouble, but he shouldn’t have to do it alone. Everything in Len told him to stay and look after him.

 

But then Hartley was grabbing him by the arm and trying to pull him away. Len shook him off, curtly told him to leave, that he’d follow in a second. The concern in his eyes bothered Len. He still went as commanded though.

 

Len gave Barry a final look over. There was a sheen of sweat visible on the areas of skin revealed by the Flash mask and a slight tremble shook his whole body. Then Len turned away and left despite everything in him screaming not to.

 

Hartley had stopped and waited for him halfway down the block, standing beside Axel who’d kept a conspicuous distance since the monster had been defeated. As Len passed the trickster, he ground out, “Find Dr Snow. Get her back here as soon as you can.”

 

Axel’s yes boss came quickly.

 

He returned home and saw shaky camera phone footage and cover ups on tv. No mention of the Flash going rogue but also no mention of army involvement.

 

He waited.

 

He didn’t see Barry that day.

 

Or the day after.

 

Or the day after that.

 

He waited.

 

Chapter Text

Len was drinking at the bar at Saints and Sinners when he felt a familiar presence behind him. In the tiny moment in which he became aware of being watched, his heart suddenly felt like it was being crushed. He was assaulted with the urgency to run. As if he could ever run fast enough or far enough to escape this confrontation. He didn’t let the feelings get to him though. He was Captain Cold, he could play it cool. He let the boy stew for a few moments without giving any sign he’d noticed him. When he did finally choose to speak, he didn’t bother turning around.

 

“Caught your theatrics on the news. Very heroic.” He took a slow swallow from his beer.

 

Barry must have finally grown tired of lurking – or realised the futility of it now that he’d been caught spying – because he shuffled over and took the stool next to Len, just like he had that first night. “Yeah.”

 

“So it’s official. The gang’s all back together for good.” Len didn’t let a hint of questioning enter that sentence. It would feel too much like begging for scraps and Len had more pride than that.

 

Barry didn’t offer him anything more than another, “yeah.”

 

It had been weeks since the confrontation with McCulloch and the resulting clusterfuck. I’ll find you later he’d said but Len hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Barry since.

 

It was like he’d lost something that he hadn’t even known he’d had in the first place. There was suddenly just a Barry-shaped hole in his life. He’d stayed at the apartment in Keystone every night since, just waiting for that same hesitant knock on the door. It never came.

 

After a week of Len holing himself up in his apartment, Lisa and Hartley apparently hatched a plan between them. They’d drop by in a feigned casual manner, sometimes bringing groceries, their individual visits staggered in such a deliberate way that he was kept occupied with company for most of the day. They probably thought they were being clever but Len wasn’t born yesterday. He knew exactly what they were up to.

 

Half of him wished they’d just leave him alone to wallow in self-pity but the other half was glad for the company. It helped that they both knew exactly why Len was acting the way he was. They each had their own way of dealing with him too. Lisa would vacillate between telling him to harden up, get over it and then trying to have a heart-to-heart with him. She did that sometimes, having gotten all of her ideas about happy family dynamics from television. When she got too sappy, he’d lock himself in his bedroom until she either left or got so angry she’d start to fondly yell insults through the door separating them.

 

Hartley on the other hand would throw himself down dramatically on Len’s ratty couch, commiserate briefly and then flirt aggressively.

 

Mick was around as well, as he’d always been, but not having use of his right arm for a while made him prickly and they ended up sniping at each other more often than not. Len didn’t know how much he knew. Maybe nothing. Probably everything. You could never be sure with Mick. He played the idiot too well.

 

The last anyone had seen of Mardon was as the ambos were taking him away from the scene of destruction downtown and no one seemed to know where he was now, whether recuperating, locked up in jail or some combination of the two. Len figured he’d make his presence known whenever he felt like getting back into it. God knew they wouldn’t be able to keep him locked up for long.

 

Axel on the other hand had stayed unusually quiet after they left the battlefield, retreating to whatever disused creepy toy factory he was currently calling home. He’d be back eventually too. Len would put money on it.

 

The curveball was McCulloch. He hadn’t been joking when he’d said he wanted to be a Rogue. Len suspected their run-in with the army’s monster had only solidified this idea he had of us vs them, though now them was less the Flash and the cops and more a conspiracy theory-level secret branch of the government that wanted to capture them all for experimentation. He’d pop up once a day in reflections when Len was brushing his teeth or looking out the window, just touching base to see what was going on job-wise. Len had sent him away disappointed every time. He admired his tenacity though. He’d be a useful asset.

 

By the middle of the second week Len found himself escaping to Saints and Sinners nightly, sometimes to get away from his empty apartment, sometimes because he’d fooled himself into pretending he’d given up for good and was moving on with his life and sometimes just to avoid his sister and team mate. Luckily for him they seemed to accept his need for space and didn’t follow him there – although Lisa would give him a concerned frown every time he’d grab his parker and leave. He knew what she saw; patterns they’d both seen before with their father.

 

It was the consciousness of that fact that kept him from going all out like he perhaps would have liked to. Instead he nursed his beers until the barkeep called last orders and then he’d head home.

 

Then he’d seen the news play footage from the fight at the Flash Day celebrations. And he’d known.

 

Known that Barry was back where he belonged with his friends and family. The status quo had been restored. And now there was no place in Barry’s life for him.

 

A part of him had always known this would happen, he just didn’t expect it to hurt this much.

 

“If you’re playing happy families again, then it begs the question: what are you doing here?” Len turned towards him with an upraised eyebrow. The with me went unsaid. The heavy sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach reinforced the fact that he already knew the answer, he just didn’t want to accept it until it was said aloud. Barry had come here – neutral territory, unlike his apartment - to set things straight, to redraw the lines of their relationship so they’d be back to hero and villain and nothing more.

 

Barry’s head was bowed, hands in his lap. He was still for the longest time. He looked like Atlas with the whole weight of the world on his shoulders.

 

“I’m sorry.” He sounded so miserable. It was funny how you could harbour two conflicting emotions at once, Len mused. Because on one hand, the misery in Barry’s voice gave him a cold, vindictive pleasure. If he had to suffer through this, then the least Barry could do was suffer with him.

 

But the other part of him wanted so badly to comfort the speedster. It had become like a Pavlovian response by this point. If Barry was hurting, something in him told him to fix it.

 

The tug of war inside him left him motionless, voiceless, waiting.

 

“I didn’t want to come here,” Barry continued, eyes flickering up to Len’s face. “I know I shouldn’t have. I can’t do anything right. But I just…” He lapsed into silence.

 

Len drank.

 

“I don’t want to stop whatever… this” - He gestured between the two of them - “is that’s going on between us.”

 

Len stilled, bottle halfway to his mouth, more from shock than anything.

 

Barry continued, unaware. “I know I’ve been a pain in the butt these last few months. I’m not proud of myself. I thought I could go back to how things were and leave you alone, but it’s not working. And I know you were probably happy to see the back of me but… I missed you.” Barry huffed out a self-deprecating laugh. “Like, a lot. Sorry.”

 

Before he knew it, words were coming unbidden from Len’s mouth. "Come back to mine?"

 

Barry seemed a little surprised by the request but nodded hesitantly. "Okay."

 

 

***

 

Being in the apartment together again after a few weeks of no contact was a little strange. Barry chastised Len for still not keeping his door locked as he watched him open it without getting out a key. Len just waved away the reprimand and gestured the speedster through the door as he held it open. Barry took deliberate care to pass by with as much room between himself and Len as possible.

 

It got really awkward when they were standing in Len’s living room, a metre between them, and Barry seemed to be as clueless as Len was as to how to start this conversation they obviously needed to be having. Barry was practically vibrating on the spot with restless energy, his eyes straying everywhere except Len’s face.

 

Len started to say, “Do you want to –” as Barry began, “can I –” and then they both lapsed into silence again. Len waved a hand at Barry to go on, not trusting his voice.

 

It took Barry a moment to work up the nerve to speak again. “Can I… I mean,” his eyes flickered to the floor, “could you just hold me?”

 

Len didn’t realise he’d been holding his breath. “I can do that.”

 

Then it was easier. Len knew these motions, knew what Barry felt like in his arms, the familiar warmth of his body – noticeably warmer than anyone else he knew, not that he had a great pool of people he hugged regularly to compare against. He wrapped his arms around Barry’s waist and pulled him closer, rested his chin on his shoulder as Barry fisted his hands in Len’s shirt between them.

 

“Is this okay?”

 

Len held on tighter. “Yeah.”

 

They stayed like that for minutes, unmoving, until Barry’s right hand unclenched from Len’s shirt and flattened over his heart. It was a familiar gesture that Len didn’t think Barry realised he was doing most of the time. Len had lost count of the number of times that Barry’s hand had strayed to his chest, his wrist, his throat to seek out a heartbeat. Len wondered if it was a habit Barry had picked up before or after his mother died. 

 

“Where have you been?”

 

Barry burrowed his face further into Len’s shoulder. His voice when it came was muffled by the fabric of Len’s shirt. “Around.”

 

Len scoffed. “I figured that much.”

 

“I’ve been working.” He shrugged. “Keeping busy.”

 

“Running yourself ragged?” Len prompted.

 

He waited but no response came. It didn’t matter. Barry’s silence was all the answer he needed.

 

“Would you mind if… Can I stay here tonight?”

 

Len pulled back a little to be able to see Barry’s face. “You don’t have to ask. You’ll probably take this with a grain of salt considering my…” a wave of the handlivelihood, but you’re allowed to take things for yourself sometimes. You’re allowed to be selfish.”

 

Barry remained silent. Len could almost see his brain ticking away, telling him Len was lying or that he didn’t deserve good things or whatever other self-sacrificing bullshit seemed to occupy most of the hero’s head. Sure, Len didn’t expect that after just one prompt from him Barry was going to completely change his attitude, but from Barry’s dubious look, Len may have well told him the sky was red and paperclips were the new national currency. He knew he should just let it go - having Barry back should be enough for him right now – but suddenly he needed Barry to understand.

 

“I’m serious. You can’t just give and give and give until there’s nothing left.” He scoffed. “Central City’s very own happy prince. Your friends might be happy to help you give away your gold and rubies and… and… sapphires but I’m not about to. Help people, by all means. I know you do-gooders can’t help yourselves. But don’t destroy yourself doing it. You deserve to have everything you want. So just take it. Having some happiness in your life doesn’t make you a bad person.”

 

Barry hung his head, hiding his face. “But despite what everyone thinks, I am a bad person… I’d be using you. I am using you.”

 

The words felt familiar but Len couldn’t pin down where he’d heard them before. “Maybe I’m using you too. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I don’t care.” He took a steadying breath before finally baring a little of his own soul to admit, “I want you here.”

 

***

 

Maybe his words had gotten through a little bit. Barry was still obviously thinking and rethinking every action before he took it, reticent as always, but in the end he took Len’s hand in his own hesitant grip and led him to the bedroom. Len would count it as a win.

 

This part was still relatively new and they went through their bedtime routines in silence and with extra care, lest some loud noise or bumped elbow bring it all crashing down. Len still locked himself in the ensuite to change and Barry still wouldn’t get into the bed until Len had.  

 

But as soon as he was settled and while Barry was still sliding between the blankets, Len reached out and pulled Barry across the space separating them. There was no use pretending this wasn’t how things would have worked out eventually anyway. Len didn’t see why they should dance around it. Barry stiffened at first but he gravitated towards the contact like always. They ended up facing each other, legs tangled together and fingertips a hairsbreadth away from touching.

 

Len’s eyelids were growing heavy but he wasn’t ready to be dragged down to sleep yet.

 

“How have you been?”

 

Barry shrugged as well as he could lying down. “Okay, I guess. Getting better.” His eyes strayed to the side but after a moment he continued. “You were right, you know? That first night. Caitlin convinced me to go see someone, to talk things over. Not the Flash stuff, obviously, but life things. I think it’s helping.”

 

“Good. That’s good.”

 

Barry shuffled closer to him and ducked his face in under Len’s chin, hiding his eyes. “Is it okay if we just sleep?”

 

“Yeah. Whatever you want.”

 

Sleep came on swiftly.

 

***

 

Len was woken up by Barry’s restless energy next to him. He reached out blindly to throw an arm over him to make him stop doing whatever he was doing. “Slow down,” Len slurred through sleep numb lips. 

 

“Sorry,” Barry mumbled. “I’ve got a lot of energy.”  

 

The sun still wasn’t up; the only light coming through the small gap in Len’s curtains was artificial and fluorescent. The street outside was quiet except for the ever present hum of the electricity lines and far off rumbling of trucks in the industrial district. A dog barked somewhere far off.

 

He could only just make out the features of Barry’s face in the dark. They’d drifted apart in the hours they’d been sleeping or Barry had pulled away when he’d woken up. Night lent the room an air of fuzziness it didn’t have in the daylight. Barry’s eyebrows were drawn together in consternation and Len reached a hand out from the warm shelter of the blankets to try to rub the expression away.

 

“Stop thinking.”

 

Barry just frowned deeper. “Sorry. I can’t help it.”

 

“C’mere.” Len shuffled forward until they were close again, then ran a hand through Barry’s hair, brushing it off his forehead, and leant in to place a kiss to the crown of Barry’s head.

 

“Some days I want to die, just not be here anymore,” Barry whispered into the space between them. “And I know. I know that’s not good, but at least I don’t want to actually kill myself. Right?”

 

Len didn’t have the words to answer that so he pulled Barry into his arms and hoped he understood.

 

“I should go,” Barry said.

 

“Not yet. Stay.”

 

***

 

The light in the room was wan the next time Len opened his eyes. Barry must have just beat him up because he was greeted with a hey as soon as he began to move but hadn’t been woken by the boy’s restless fidgeting.

 

It already felt familiar to lean in and exchange lazy kisses with Barry, to run a hand through his sleep tousled hair. Barry hummed against Len’s lips before pulling back and asking, “What time is it?”

 

Len grumbled good-naturedly, pulling Barry closer towards himself. “How would I know?”

 

Internal body clock. Your words, not mine.” He could feel Barry’s grin stretching against his neck.

 

He huffed in resignation. “After 8. Almost a quarter past.”

 

“What!?” Barry started flailing, throwing blankets off and bolting out of bed. “I’m supposed to start work in 15 minutes!”

 

Len watched in amusement as Barry picked items of clothing off the floor, screwed up his face at how rumpled they were but put them on anyway.

 

Len sat up as Barry started hopping around, trying to get his shoes on and laced up without wasting the time on sitting down and doing it properly. He’d probably trip on them on his run to work.

 

“We’ve got something planned next week,” Len mentioned offhandedly. It was a lie but a week would give him enough time to pull it together and make it retrospectively true. “You’d better be there.”

 

Barry shot him a smile from across the room and then was suddenly by the side of the bed, linking their hands together. Len was almost getting used to the casual way Barry used his powers. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

Then there was the crackle of static electricity, a whoosh of displaced air and he was gone.